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Review Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max 2021

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Introduction

Not just the best iPhone ever, but also the one with the ‘biggest camera update ever’ – that would be this year’s iPhone 13 Pro, which we have here in Max size. Joining those larger and better cameras, we have a high refresh rate display, more battery, the mandatory chipset upgrade – the 13 Pro Max ticks all the boxes for improving everything that’s important. We’re here to see by just how much.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max review

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max review

The advancements in the camera system start with a new primary unit with a bigger sensor and a brighter lens. The ultrawide module also sports a brighter lens, but one that features autofocus – a first for an iPhone ultrawide. Then there’s the telephoto which now offers improved reach up to 3x, albeit with a slightly dimmer lens. On the front, things have remained the same, and no, the 20% reduction in notch size doesn’t count.

Finally giving in to market trends, Apple’s fitted the 13 Pro and Pro Max with 120Hz displays – or, rather, ProMotion. They’re the adaptive kind, theoretically capable of variable refresh rates to reach all the way down to 10Hz to preserve battery. That’s in addition to an already great screen feature set that includes DolbyVision support, plenty of brightness and excellent color rendition.

2021 iPhones all come with increased battery capacity, and in the 13 Pro Max’ case, that’s an 18% bump – 2.5 hours more than last year’s Pro Max in Apple’s metrics, or ‘longest battery life ever on an iPhone’, and all that.

As usual, a new year means an upgraded chipset, and alongside freshly named CPU cores and higher clock rate, the A15 in the 13 Pros also comes with an extra GPU core on top of the non-Pros. Somewhat related, the 13 Pro Max can be specced with up to a full 1TB of storage – that should be useful for iPhone filmmakers if no one else.

Here’s a few of the other more important specs.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max specs at a glance:

  • Body: 160.8×78.1×7.7mm, 240g; Glass front (Gorilla Glass), glass back (Gorilla Glass), stainless steel frame; IP68 dust/water resistant (up to 6m for 30 mins), Apple Pay (Visa, MasterCard, AMEX certified).
  • Display: 6.70″ Super Retina XDR OLED, 120Hz, HDR10, Dolby Vision, 1000 nits (typ), 1200 nits (peak), 1284x2778px resolution, 19.47:9 aspect ratio, 458ppi; Wide color gamut, True-tone.
  • Chipset: Apple A15 Bionic (5 nm): Hexa-core (2×3.22 GHz Avalanche + 4xX.X GHz Blizzard); Apple GPU (5-core graphics).
  • Memory: 128GB 6GB RAM, 256GB 6GB RAM, 512GB 6GB RAM, 1TB; NVMe.
  • OS/Software: iOS 15.
  • Rear camera: Wide (main): 12 MP, f/1.5, 26mm, 1.9µm, dual pixel PDAF, sensor-shift OIS; Telephoto: 12 MP, f/2.8, 77mm, PDAF, OIS, 3x optical zoom; Ultra wide angle: 12 MP, f/1.8, 13mm, 120˚, PDAF; Depth: TOF 3D LiDAR scanner.
  • Front camera: Wide (main): 12 MP, f/2.2, 23mm, 1/3.6″; Depth: SL 3D.
  • Video capture: Rear camera: 4K@24/30/60fps, 1080p@30/60/120/240fps, 10‑bit HDR, Dolby Vision HDR (up to 60fps), ProRes, Cinematic mode, stereo sound rec; Front camera: 4K@24/25/30/60fps, 1080p@30/60/120fps, gyro-EIS.
  • Battery: 4373mAh; Fast charging 20W, 50% in 30 min (advertised), USB Power Delivery 2.0, MagSafe wireless charging 15W, Qi magnetic fast wireless charging 7.5W.
  • Misc: Face ID, accelerometer, gyro, proximity, compass, barometer; NFC; Siri natural language commands and dictation, Ultra Wideband (UWB) support.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max unboxing

This one is easy – there’s not a whole lot to unbox. The slimline packaging introduced in 2020 (with barebones contents too) is now followed up with the removal of the plastic sleeve as this year’s contribution to the environment.

Inside, you’ll find the phone, a USB-C to Lightning cable, and a paper sleeve containing documentation, a single Apple sticker and the SIM tray removal pin. All in all, Apple’s standard issue stuff.

Design, build quality, handling

What would have made a huge difference is if 2021 iPhones didn’t have notches in their displays at all. Instead, we got a half-hearted attempt at alleviating the issue by reducing the notch… by a mere 20%. And really, this year’s lineup is all about this sort of minute improvements in almost every aspect.

iPhone 13 Pro Max (left) has a 20% smaller notch than the iPhone 12 Pro Max

The ever-growing camera bump has grown yet again to accommodate the larger and more sophisticated modules inside. We don’t have the percentages here, but the ballpark sounds about right. There’s no change in the arrangement here like the one we have on the iPhone 13 – you can’t really tell it’s the new model just by looking at the back.

One of the more significant changes this year is the increased battery capacity, but that only has a minor effect on weight and thickness. So that, too, is hardly a difference that can be spotted at a passing glance.

Even the hero color of the iPhone 13 Pro (Max), the Sierra Blue we have here, isn’t that dramatically different than the Pacific Blue of the 12s.

Mind you, that was meant as ‘twelves’, but it just reminded us that a ‘Twelve S’ wouldn’t have been out of place as this year’s model name, given the relatively modest upgrades. But simply adding ones each year makes things easier to keep track of, so we won’t dwell on naming too much.

Overall, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is 0.3mm thicker than the 12 Pro Max and 12g heavier. The 7.7mm waistline remains relatively thin for a phone this big while the extra dozen grams all but disappear in the overall heft of the 240g total. Meanwhile, the 160.8×78.1mm footprint is exactly the same as on last year’s model.

There are no two ways about it, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is one huge phone. That’s already the case when it’s naked, but it approaches rugged phone proportions if you go ahead and put it in a case. But then again, if you’re into iPhone Pro Maxes, the 13 is, well, pretty standard.

Speaking of ruggedness, the 13 Pro Max again goes above and beyond the basic requirements of the IP68 certification. Apple says it should survive 6 meters underwater for up to 30 minutes – the standard requires 1.5 meters.

The iPhone also features a Ceramic Shield protective layer on its display, Apple’s branding for the toughened glass that Corning makes for them. It may just be slightly better than what others get from Corning (or nor really), but it will still scratch or shatter if you don’t respect its limits.

One more area where the iPhone 13 Pro Max (and the smaller Pro) differs from the bulk of handsets, premium or otherwise, is the choice of material for the frame. Apple opts for stainless steel on the Pros instead of the prevalent aluminum, and that is certainly contributing to the class-leading weight, if you’ll allow us to call it that.

That shiny polished steel is very premium in theory, but real-life use covers it in fingerprints before you can say 13 Pro Max. It does wipe clean easily, but that’s a never-ending battle with a pre-determined winner.

The control layout is unchanged. The large power button is on the right, the one thing you’ll find here. The left side is more crowded, and it houses the two discrete volume buttons, the mute switch and the SIM card slot. On the bottom, there’s the Lightning port, still, and several holes behind which there’s a loudspeaker and a mic.

And what a convenient segue to bring us back to the front of the iPhone 13 Pro Max, where the earpiece/second loudspeaker has been nudged up and out of the way of the TrueDepth camera. That undoubtedly helped shrink the notch in the horizontal direction, but it did make it ever so slightly taller. Still, 20% less is 20% less.

With the same sized display and the same footprint, it’s no wonder that the bezels on the iPhone 13 Pro Max are the same as last year. Depending on your outlook on life, they’re either nicely slim, or okayishly slim – certainly not impressively slim – but not too thick either. But there’s hardly anybody who wouldn’t appreciate the consistent thickness of the black border around the entire display – well, excluding the notch.

In the end, even if you’d like to call it a recycled unimaginative design (which it kind of is), the iPhone 13 Pro Max is certainly one of the poshest but also most durable handsets you can get. It’s one of the largest and heaviest around too, and if it’s going to be your first Max, it’s probably a good idea to hold it in your hand first before committing.

The display gets a ProMotion, finally

The specs of the iPhone 13 Pro Max’s display aren’t all that different than last year’s model, with one notable exception – Apple is at long last catching up with the high refresh rate trend. It got started in the Android world in late 2017 with the original Razer Phone, so 4 years later sounds about right.

Both sizes of the 13 Pro feature a 120Hz maximum refresh rate with granular dynamic adjustment between 10Hz and 120Hz, depending on content and activity. Apple calls this ProMotion.

The adaptive behavior is one of these things that are somewhat problematic to verify on Android and nigh impossible on iOS, so we’ll have to take Apple’s word for it. What we’ll say is that, indeed, the 13 Pro Max scrolls smoothly throughout the UI, more so than the plain 13 or older models.

There’s the matter that at this point not all third-party apps can fully utilize the 120Hz ProMotion feature but that’s going to improve as developers catch up.

The display diagonal of the iPhone 13 Pro Max is the same 6.7 inches as last year’s 12 Pro Max. The resolution is the same as well at 1284x2778px, making for a 458ppi pixel density – the ‘Super Retina’ in its official name alludes to that. It’s also ‘XDR’ and that goes to indicate it’s HDR10 and Dolby Vision compliant, but more eXtremely so than, say, the similarly HDR-specced non-XDR iPhone X of old – read higher peak brightness.

On the 13 Pros, Apple promises a further 25% increase in peak brightness compared to the 12 Pros, and our test proved that to be the case. In a more unusual turn of events, the 13 Pro Max achieved its top result of 1050nits only with Auto brightness enabled, while ‘only’ 850nits were available when operating the slider manually.

We say unusual, but that’s how pretty much every non-iPhone behaves. On iPhones up until now, on the other hand, whatever the ambient light sensor could summon, you could get with your own fingers as well. It’s only natural though that Apple wouldn’t want you to have the full 1000+ nits at your disposal at all times, in order to prevent potential burn in and/or excessive battery drain. In any case – superb results for brightness.

Display test 100% brightness
Black,cd/m2 White,cd/m2 Contrast ratio
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max 0 852
Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max (Max Auto) 0 1050
Apple iPhone 13 0 797
Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max 0 822
Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max 0 820
Apple iPhone XS Max 0 653
Apple iPhone X 0 679
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G 0 458
Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G (Max Auto) 0 1023
Oppo Find X3 Pro 0 493
Oppo Find X3 Pro (Max Auto) 0 774
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra 0 514
Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra (Max Auto) 0 943
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G 0 489
Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G (Max Auto) 0 922

The iPhone 13 Pro Max has a wide color gamut display that covers the DCI-P3 color space. The phone automatically goes in P3 mode when it recognizes compatible content, but that’s not the case with our (industry standard) testing equipment and software, so we can’t give exact numbers.

We did, however, measure an essentially flawless rendition of the sRGB test patterns – average dE2000 was 0.8, which is below being perceived as a difference to a naked eye. As we’ve come to expect from iPhones, the accuracy was maintained largely unchanged across the brightness range, all the way up to the maximum manually attainable setting on the slider. It only deteriorated slightly under the bright light conditions that we used to achieve the peak 1050nits brightness, and even then, it was a lot better than competitors in the same adverse circumstances.

Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max battery life

As with the entire 2021 lineup, the iPhone 13 Pro has gotten a battery capacity increase, and here it’s the biggest one of the bunch. The new number is 4,352mAh, up 18% from the outgoing model. Apple says that’s good for an extra 2.5 hours of use, although their use is very likely not quite the same as yours. Ultimately, the iPhone 13 Pro Max should be the longest-lasting iPhone, period. Well, is it really?

Yes, by a lot, but with a caveat. We can’t tell for a fact what refresh rate the screen was using for the duration of the test. The standard UFO test reports a solid 60Hz in both Safari and Chrome and maintains that regardless of whether you’re interacting with the screen or not. Even so, the 20 full hours we measured is a remarkable result – a good 6 hours more than last year’s Pro Max. The Galaxy S21 Ultra calls it quits some 5h earlier, though that one does render at 120Hz for at least a brief portion of its web browsing.

In video playback, the iPhone 13 Pro Max was good for 24 hours of looping our test sample while offline – 9 hours more than the 12 Pro Max, and 6 on top of the S21 Ultra’s figure. Here we couldn’t be entirely certain what the refresh rate was, but it’s only natural that it wasn’t the full 120Hz, with 60Hz being a much safer bet. Again, that’s an imposing result regardless of the refresh rate it was achieved at.

On a voice call, the 13 Pro Max also showed significant improvement over its predecessor, though that’s somewhat of a low bar to clear, considering our experience with call longevity on iPhones. Having said that, the 27:26h result is, for a change, not one to be ashamed of in general, not just for an iPhone.

Dialing in all of these numbers in our formula, alongside the also surprisingly decent standby result, we’re getting an Endurance rating of 121h for the iPhone 13 Pro Max – the longest ever for an iPhone.

Our battery tests were automated thanks to SmartViser, using its viSerDevice app. The endurance rating denotes how long the battery charge will last you if you use the device for an hour of telephony, web browsing, and video playback daily.

Charging speed

The iPhone 13 Pro Max ships without a charger. Some carriers in some places may choose to bundle one in for you (and quietly calculate its price in the total) or you may shop around for one yourself if you don’t have a USB PowerDelivery brick lying around. Arguably, the most popular choice is Apple’s own 20W adapter, so we tested with what one, and we also tried with the MagSafe puck.

The fully wired solution got us to 42% in 30 minutes, hardly an impressive number. It’s still better than MagSafe, which managed only 25% in as much time. A full charge took 1:46h with a cable and 2:20h with, well, MagSafe and its cable.

The MagSafe full charge time is respectable, but the regular wired one isn’t too competitive. There’s a caveat there, too – that time can only be achieved with the ‘Optimized Battery Charging’ option in the ‘On’ position. That’s the feature, which makes the phone charge up to 80% and then stops and times the final top-up to coincide with your wake-up time as soon as it learns your routine. Switch that off, however, and you’ll be looking at 2:10h for a full charge – maniacs, those people at Apple.

For what it’s worth, the 13 Pro Max can charge at up to 27W, so the 20W adapter isn’t giving it the most juice it can take. We did retest with a third-party 65W Power Delivery adapter and got a much better looking 55% at the half-hour mark. The gap narrowed as time passed and at the 1-hour mark the third-party unit stood at 83% vs. the 80% of the Apple brick, only to ultimately take longer for a full charge – 1:54h.

30min charging test (from 0%)

Higher is better

  • SORT BY LABEL
  • SORT BY VALUE
  • Oppo Find X3 Pro100%
  • OnePlus 9 Pro99%
  • Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra89%
  • Asus ROG Phone 5s Pro71%
  • Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max55%
  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max (65W PD)55%
  • Apple iPhone 1354%
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G54%
  • Sony Xperia 1 III50%
  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max42%
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G33%
  • Apple iPhone 13 (MagSafe)32%
  • Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max (MagSafe)28%
  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max (MagSafe)25%

Time to full charge (from 0%)

Lower is better

  • SORT BY LABEL
  • SORT BY VALUE
  • Oppo Find X3 Pro0:28h
  • OnePlus 9 Pro0:32h
  • Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra0:37h
  • Asus ROG Phone 5s Pro1:03h
  • Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G1:11h
  • Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max1:32h
  • Apple iPhone 131:46h
  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max1:46h
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G1:46h
  • Sony Xperia 1 III1:50h
  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max (65W PD)1:54h
  • Apple iPhone 13 (MagSafe)2:19h
  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max (MagSafe)2:20h

Speaker test

The 13 Pro Max features the usual iPhone speaker setup – there’s a bottom-firing driver for one channel, while the second channel is handled by the earpiece. When held in landscape, the phone respects the left-right orientation, and it will switch channels to match the way you’re holding it. In portrait, on the other hand, the earpiece is in charge of the right channel.

There’s a bit more to that because the bottom speaker also takes over some of the lower-end frequencies for the top one. Additionally, even if you only feed one channel, the opposite speaker will still output some sound, albeit at a much lower volume than the ‘correct’ one.
Bottom speaker • Earpiece/Top speaker

As we’ve come to expect from iPhones and, really, all top-level phones, the 13 Pro Max put up a great performance in our speaker test. It earned a ‘Very Good’ rating for loudness, same as all key competitors. It’s the best sounding one among this tough crowd with the closest thing to bass, lively vocals and sparkly highs.

Speaker frequency responseApple iPhone 13 P…Apple iPhone 12 P…Samsung Galaxy S…1/250Hz100Hz500Hz1000Hz5000Hz10000Hz-30dB-20dB-10dB0dB10dB20dB30dB

X Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra
27.258 -25.603 -25.36 -27.656 -30.091
44.348 -9.487 -9.857 -25.997 -31.206
65.574 -6.878 -7.73 -24.295 -26.776
91.616 -9.757 -9.459 -24.664 -22.451
123.122 -5.352 -5.563 -17.528 -12.607
160.746 -2.783 -2.571 -10.069 -12.384
205.164 -0.571 -0.526 -7.271 -8.533
257.068 -4.731 -7.163 -10.622 -9.518
317.168 -7.447 -5.778 -11.581 -10.541
386.189 -19.852 -11.641 -7.739 -5.217
464.863 -21.754 -22.06 -12.683 -9.629
553.931 -14.234 -15.138 -9.696 -7.196
654.134 -10.672 -9.544 -5.685 -2.794
766.209 -12.275 -10.074 -5.743 1.411
890.88 -8.354 -5.61 -6.752 0.228
1,028.86 -5.34 -3.558 -3.989 0.62
1,180.84 0.61 -7.121 -3.291 -0.925
1,347.49 4.497 -4.962 2.342 1.006
1,529.42 6.507 2.247 7.192 5.283
1,727.23 10.058 10.585 10.511 8.194
1,941.47 11.657 13.442 11.814 10.221
2,172.62 9.474 10.563 13.103 12.607
2,421.12 9.644 12.506 11.116 12.379
2,687.33 15.26 17.696 11.345 11.452
2,971.55 14.693 16.346 18.489 16.988
3,274.01 9.625 9.831 19.252 18.566
3,594.84 7.195 6.617 16.782 13.929
3,934.11 6.012 7.495 12.111 9.107
4,291.77 7.078 8.946 6.269 5.203
4,667.69 9.862 9.342 9.667 7.08
5,061.66 8.799 7.396 16.783 12.276
5,473.35 7.088 5.64 17.876 13.833
5,902.32 8.243 6.893 15.06 11.736
6,348.04 9.841 8.515 11.306 7.288
6,809.87 9.926 9.319 10.844 5.199
7,287.07 10.875 10.616 13.288 6.044
7,778.78 14.2 15.116 14.944 7.206
8,284.06 18.236 19.453 16.103 8.343
8,801.83 19.338 19.727 17.016 9.581
9,330.94 17.332 14.723 17.185 9.857
9,870.15 13.637 7.473 17.62 9.334
10,418.1 7.858 -1.551 18.755 10.911
10,973.3 1.696 -8.594 19.624 12.571
11,534.4 -3.769 -12.022 19.16 13.282
12,099.6 -8.103 -14.279 16.707 11.364
12,667.3 -11.173 -15.682 14.001 8.453
13,235.9 -13.746 -17.32 11.758 7.167
13,803.4 -15.037 -19.18 9.292 6.483
14,368.2 -16.159 -20.922 6.434 5.162
14,928.3 -17.707 -22.174 4.078 3.596
15,481.8 -19.481 -23.52 2.074 2.069
16,026.8 -21.727 -25.096 -0.377 -0.057
16,561.4 -24.094 -26.299 -3.158 -2.403
17,083.7 -26.009 -27.008 -5.817 -4.114
17,591.8 -27.275 -27.355 -8.477 -5.309
18,083.7 -27.849 -27.409 -10.833 -6.273
18,557.8 -27.93 -27.341 -12.569 -7.024
19,012 -27.878 -27.283 -13.773 -7.548
19,444.8 -27.84 -27.271 -14.596 -7.833
19,854.4 -27.828 -27.261 -15.109 -7.894

Use the Playback controls to listen to the phone sample recordings (best use headphones). We measure the average loudness of the speakers in LUFS. A lower absolute value means a louder sound. A look at the frequency response chart will tell you how far off the ideal “0db” flat line is the reproduction of the bass, treble, and mid frequencies. You can add more phones to compare how they differ. The scores and ratings are not comparable with our older loudspeaker test.

Apple iOS 15 on the iPhone 13 Pro Max

All new iPhones come with Apple’s iOS 15 out of the box. It’s not a major update over iOS 14, but it does round many UI elements shapes such as settings menus and icons, notifications, buttons. The new version improves heavily on FaceTime and Messages, Notification management, Safari browser (now with extensions), Wallet and Maps. It also makes Photos and Spotlight even more intelligent, while the Camera app can now read and let you copy any text in your viewfinder in real-time.

Let’s take a closer look at how iOS 15 looks on the iPhone 13 Pro Max. Its interface is still based on homescreens populated with apps and widgets, App Library for your less important apps, and Notification and Control Centers.

The lockscreen on iOS 15 remains intact – it’s one with the Notification Center and houses your notifications (privacy options are available), plus shortcuts for the torch and the camera. You can get past it via Face ID or PIN if you’ve opted for secure unlock.

Your apps usually populate the homescreen(s) and widgets. There are two specific screens – the leftmost is Today page, while the rightmost page – App Library.

You get to hide specific homescreens – you may have a page that’s full of games and hide when at work or hide a page of work/school apps when on vacation. You can’t opt-out of Today and App Library, though.

Apple iOS 15 has a new Focus option, which switches between different modes like Work, Personal, Driving, Gaming, Do Not Disturb, among others, and it is now the best way to automatically hide/show homescreen pages. We’ll get to it in a bit.

If you don’t like the App Library, you can continue to use iOS 15 the old way and completely ignore the feature. There is no option to disable the App Library page, though.

Widgets can be placed on any of the homescreens and the Today page, and they can coexist with app icons. There are three widget sizes supported by iOS 14 – 2×2, 4×2, and 4×4.

You can stack widgets of the same size on top of one another. Once you have a stack, you can have the OS automatically choose which is the most relevant widget to surface to the top of the stack automatically. Alternatively, you can flip through the stack manually by swiping up or down until you find the widget you need. And we love stacked widgets – it’s a real space saver – especially if you combine a frequently used widget at the top with less frequently used ones in the stack below it.

The App Library is an app drawer, which is always your rightmost homescreen pane. Apps are added automatically to the App Library upon installation. The sorting is also an automatic process, and you can’t edit the categories or move apps into different categories. The app sorting depends on the App Store tags the developer has used upon uploading the apps.

The App Library has three settings only – Add new apps to Homescreen and App Library, Add to App Library only, and Show Notification Badges in App Library. That’s it.

The App Library is where you are going to ditch your least used apps to die.
App Library

The Today page is still alive, but barely. You put the same widgets and stacks you can do on your homescreen(s). Here, you can also use the old third-party widgets that haven’t been optimized for newer iOS versions yet. The old widgets come right after the new ones, should you choose to use some new ones, of course.

The Notification Center is summoned with a swipe from the left horn or the notch. The pane was unified with the lockscreen in iOS 11, and that’s why you can have different wallpapers on your homescreen and notification center.

The Control Center, which has customizable and (some) expandable toggles, is called with a swipe from the right horn. You can use haptic touch to access additional controls. And the battery percentage is also here.

The navigation gestures stay the same as they were on the iPhone X. Swipe upwards from the bottom line to go to the homescreen, swipe and stop midway for task switcher, swipe from the side of the screen for back and forward. You can also swipe on the line left or right to switch between your recently used apps instantaneously.

The Back Tap is a cool accessibility shortcut. It recognizes double and triple tap on the back of the phone, and you can assign whatever you like. We chose ‘Take a screenshot’ and ‘Control Center,’ but it is really up to you.

There is a system-wide Dark Mode. You can enable it manually or schedule it from within Display Settings, and it switches all-white backgrounds to dark across iOS. The Dark Mode affects all system apps but also apps that rely on system backgrounds. You can also check the option to darken the homescreen wallpaper when in Dark Mode.

Dark Mode

Some of the novelties that come with Apple iOS 15 include better FaceTime service, smarter Spotlight search engine, Focus modes, improved Safari browser and Weather app, and more.

The new FaceTime app looks more and more like Zoom, and it now supports Grid view. It has a cleaner interface, supports background blur, spatial audio, and most importantly – it can make conference calls, and non-Apple users can join the fun, too, by using an invite link and Chrome of Edge web browser.

Apple users can enhance their microphone with Voice Isolation or Wide Spectrum so the other party can hear them much better.
FaceTime

Notifications got a design overhaul and a few new features. The appearance of notifications is tweaked for better visibility, like a larger contact icon, and iOS notifications will be more granular.
Focus in Control Center

You can set “Focus” profiles that filter the priority notifications while you’re working or gaming, for instance, and it will also let people know if they can reach you. In addition to filtering notifications and calls, each Focus mode can be configured to show/hide certain homescreens, dim the lockscreen, and schedule or trigger this mode by certain events. There are a few pre-defined Focus modes – Do Not Disturb, Driving, Night, Work, Pleasure, but you can also add Gaming, Fitness, Reading or create entirely custom ones.

And because the Focus modes filter notifications by importance, there is a new Notification Summary option that shows a single tile of gathered unimportant notifications rather than a long string of missed ones. It can be scheduled to pop up a few times per day.

Focus

The Safari web browser has seen quite the upgrade. First, the address bar is now at the bottom of the screen, easily accessible, and you can swipe on it left or right to switch tabs (in portrait mode) just like you fast scroll between apps via swipes on the infamous line. The address bar auto-hides when you start scrolling, of course.

The browser now supports extensions; you can download such from the App Store.

The Weather app has a new interface, and it supports weather maps.

Weather

Apple Wallet gets support for new types of keys, like House and Hotel room keys. Apple has partnered with Hyatt Hotels, letting Apple Wallet store a hotel key and use it to enter a room. The Hotel can choose when to activate the key.

Apple Wallet will be able to incorporate UWB technology to work with smart car keys – automatically unlocking a supported car and allowing it to start without the need to take the iPhone out.

Finally, users in supported US states will be able to add their Identity Card to Wallet and use them to pass certain security checkpoints, like at an airport.

Siri – Apple’s digital assistant – is used by 400+ million people monthly. You summon it by holding the ‘side’ key (the Power key). You can do all sorts of things with Siri – from questions and translations through setting up reminders and sending replies to asking for reservations or tickets, directions, and whatnot. Siri Knowledge also lets your iPhone recognize items and landmarks in your gallery.

Siri Shortcuts are available within a standalone app. You can assign a shortcut to so many things that it will take many pages to describe them. You can script almost anything available within iOS itself, a lot of stuff from within the system apps, and some advanced actions from any well-known apps such as YouTube or Facebook. The scripting options are also available throughout various system apps, allowing you to activate reminders, initiate calls, and switch to different notification modes via scripted events.

PiP or Picture-in-Picture mode was finally introduced with iOS 14. It does precisely what the name suggests – minimizes your currently playing video within a hovering pop-up over the iOS UI or other apps.

PiP is supported in Apple TV, Podcasts, Safari, FaceTime, iTunes, Home, YouTube, and any other third-party app that chooses to add support for it.
Picture in Picture

The multimedia is handled by Apple’s default apps – Photos, Music, TV.

The Photos app’s library has four different views – Years, Months, Days, and All Photos. Days, Months, and Years tabs use what the AI considers as best pictures at a glance, and this way, all the clutter gets filtered – you won’t see screenshots, notes, or even duplicates. When you scroll through your images in these three categories, all live photos and videos will play automatically (muted). Also, your best photos or videos will show in bigger thumbnails.

AI-powered search option and powerful photo and video edit modes are available, as usual.

The Photos app has three new features, part of the iOS 15 update. The first one is the new album called Shared with me, where you’d find images that were shared with you in iMessages.

Apple has improved the Memories feature by making it more intelligent and powerful – the algorithm selects the best (live) photos and videos and makes a short film, which now uses automatic color and contrast correction for a consistent look and features integration with Apple Music by choosing a relevant song automatically for the film. You can edit this auto-generated film later, of course.

Finally, the Photos app offers detailed information for each photo – full EXIF info and location on the map.

Photos

The TV app is part of iOS 15, and it is your default video player for locally stored movies and shows you’ve added via iTunes. This is also the digital store for movies and TV shows, and it is also the place where you find the Apple TV+ streaming service. A bit overwhelming, but you get used to it eventually.
TV

Music is the default player, and it relies heavily on Apple Music. But even if you decide not to use the streaming service, it can still do an excellent job if you have a few minutes to add your songs via iTunes. Realistically, adding music tracks via iTunes requires as few clicks as it would take to copy them via Windows Explorer, so there is no overhead. The requirement to download and install iTunes in the first place, however, can be off-putting to Windows PC users.

Music

The Camera app now supports Live Text feature – if you point the camera towards text, a text icon will appear – if you tap on it, you will be able to (scan and) copy or look up the text you are seeing. Neat!
Live text

Books are here for your documents, PDFs, and eBooks. Stocks and News are onboard. Safari is your default web browser, and it has a Download manager and some enhanced privacy options we will talk about in a minute.

Apple Maps has become quite powerful and feature-rich over the years. Some of the recent highlight functions include cycling directions, elevation info, a new EV routing factor, improved guides and recommendations. You can even see speed cameras and red-light cameras in some areas.

The Maps app in iOS 15 has been improved with AR guidance when using public transport for easier orientation.

Maps

You can change your default browser and mail client since iOS 14, but you cannot do that with your Maps app, unfortunately.

Finally, Apple Pay is on board, of course, and Sign-in with Apple is pushed everywhere. You can use this to quickly sign into apps with your Apple account, authenticating with FaceID and with two-factor authentication included. Apple will send the app a unique random ID. If an app demands your email address, you can choose to give it your actual email or a random one automatically created by Apple for you with built-in forwarding.

Some of the upcoming iOS 15 features that will be seeded later this year include SharePlay, App Privacy Report, and CSAM Detection.

SharePlay lets you use, listen or watch content with other FaceTime participants. You can share any Apple TV+ or Apple Music track over a FaceTime call. You can watch or listen via AirPlay on your AirPlay-compatible TV, too.

App Privacy report is something Android users have known for a long time – you will be able to see which apps have access and have been using that access to microphones, camera, location and your photos.

Finally, CSAM Detection will come with several child safety features within Messages and iCloud photos – it will track for explicit content, blur it and issue a warning screen and an alert to the parent account.

Performance and benchmarks

The latest Apple A15 Bionic chip powers all iPhone 13 models. It is the second 5nm Apple chip (second-gen 5nm TSMC process) and packs the whopping 15 billion transistors – that’s 27% more than the A14 within the iPhone 12 phones.

The new A15 chip still relies on a hexa-core processor with 2 big Avalanche cores maxing out at 3.23GHz and 4 small Blizzard cores working at up to 1.82GHz. The upgraded processor should deliver a 50% higher performance than the competition, whatever that means (Snapdragon 865 maybe?).

There is an improved 5-core Apple GPU for the Pro models and 4-core Apple GPU for the non-Pro. The being the Max Pro, it gets the quintet.

The new A15 has a new 16 core Neural Engine, too, powering features such as on-device voice and image recognition and other advanced machine learning tasks. On top of that, there is a new ISP on board, twice the amount of cache, as well as a new display engine and new video encoders and decoders.

The 13 Pros have 6GB of RAM, up from the 4GB of the non-Pros.

The Apple A15 Bionic also comes with Qualcomm’s X60 5G modem.

We ran the usual benchmark apps, and in GeekBench, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is way ahead of its Android competition, rocking the latest Snapdragons or Exynoses. The gap is smaller when comparing to last year’s iPhones, but there is still a modest improvement there, to the tune of 10%.

GeekBench 5 (multi-core)

Higher is better

  • SORT BY LABEL
  • SORT BY VALUE
  • Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2020)4709
  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max4706
  • Apple iPhone 134645
  • Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max4240
  • Apple iPhone 12 mini4174
  • Asus Zenfone 8 Flip3673
  • OnePlus 9 Pro3636
  • Asus ROG Phone 5s Pro3521
  • Sony Xperia 1 III3515
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max3503
  • Oppo Find X3 Pro3316
  • Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G (Snapdragon)3294
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G3239
  • Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra3191
  • Apple iPad 10.2 (2021)3124
  • Apple iPhone XR2690
  • Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G2603

GeekBench 5 (single-core)

Higher is better

  • SORT BY LABEL
  • SORT BY VALUE
  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max1741
  • Apple iPhone 131727
  • Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max1606
  • Apple iPhone 12 mini1599
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max1332
  • Apple iPad 10.2 (2021)1328
  • Sony Xperia 1 III1130
  • OnePlus 9 Pro1126
  • Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra1126
  • Asus Zenfone 8 Flip1126
  • Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2020)1121
  • Asus ROG Phone 5s Pro1117
  • Apple iPhone XR1115
  • Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G1095
  • Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G (Snapdragon)988
  • Oppo Find X3 Pro926
  • Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra 5G880

We’ll refrain from more cross-platform comparisons and only show how the 13 Pro Max stacks up against stablemates. In Antutu, we’re seeing a tangible improvement over the A14-equipped iPhone 12, though it’s again not a massive leap in performance.

AnTuTu 9

Higher is better

  • SORT BY LABEL
  • SORT BY VALUE
  • Apple iPhone 13775519
  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max775414
  • Apple iPhone 12692020
  • Apple iPad 10.2 (2021)617292

In GFXBench, we’re seeing tons of raw power out of the 13 Pro Max and the first significant difference between its souped-up version of the A15, and the vanilla SoC used in the regular iPhone 13.

But that difference doesn’t show up in the onscreen test runs – the iPhone 13 Pro Max is still capped at 60Hz in the benchmark. More importantly, that’s also true for essentially all games at the time of writing. We’re expecting developments in this respect in the coming weeks, but as it stands right now, your iOS gaming doesn’t get a ProMotion. Add that to the 60Hz-only browsing, and you get the impression that Apple is shipping an unfinished product – you’ll get 120Hz eventually, just not on day one.

GFX Manhattan ES 3.0 (offscreen 1080p)

Higher is better

  • SORT BY LABEL
  • SORT BY VALUE
  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max256
  • Apple iPhone 13222
  • Apple iPhone 12 mini198
  • Apple iPhone 12195
  • Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max194
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max179
  • Apple iPad 10.2 (2021)170
  • Apple iPhone XR136

GFX Manhattan ES 3.0 (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • SORT BY LABEL
  • SORT BY VALUE
  • Apple iPhone XR60
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max60
  • Apple iPhone 12 mini60
  • Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max60
  • Apple iPhone 1360
  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max60
  • Apple iPad 10.2 (2021)60
  • Apple iPhone 1260

GFX Manhattan ES 3.1 (offscreen 1080p)

Higher is better

  • SORT BY LABEL
  • SORT BY VALUE
  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max178
  • Apple iPhone 13150
  • Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max135
  • Apple iPhone 12132
  • Apple iPhone 12 mini131
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max120
  • Apple iPad 10.2 (2021)104
  • Apple iPhone XR97

GFX Manhattan ES 3.1 (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • SORT BY LABEL
  • SORT BY VALUE
  • Apple iPhone XR60
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max60
  • Apple iPhone 12 mini60
  • Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max60
  • Apple iPhone 1360
  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max60
  • Apple iPhone 1260
  • Apple iPad 10.2 (2021)55

GFX Car Chase ES 3.1 (offscreen 1080p)

Higher is better

  • SORT BY LABEL
  • SORT BY VALUE
  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max121
  • Apple iPhone 1398
  • Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max78
  • Apple iPhone 12 mini73
  • Apple iPad 10.2 (2021)70
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max67
  • Apple iPhone XR60
  • Apple iPhone 1258

GFX Car Chase ES 3.1 (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • Apple iPhone 12 mini60
  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max60
  • Apple iPhone 1359
  • Apple iPhone XR58
  • Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max57
  • Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max55
  • Apple iPhone 1253
  • Apple iPad 10.2 (2021)44

GFX Aztek Vulkan High (onscreen)

Higher is better

  • Apple iPhone XR60
  • Apple iPhone 1355
  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max55
  • Apple iPhone 12 mini51
  • Apple iPhone 1245
  • Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max42
  • Apple iPad 10.2 (2021)33

GFX Aztek Vulkan High (offscreen 1440p)

Higher is better

  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max50
  • Apple iPhone 12 Pro Max40
  • Apple iPhone 12 mini36
  • Apple iPhone 1334
  • Apple iPad 10.2 (2021)32

3DMark Wild Life Vulkan 1.1 (offscreen 1440p)

Higher is better

  • Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max9751
  • Apple iPhone 138986
  • Apple iPhone 127996
  • Apple iPad 10.2 (2021)7537

We ran a couple of stability tests on the 13 Pro Max as well. The 77% long-term performance result for the CPU is probably okay, though the quick drop to that level isn’t particularly confidence-inspiring.

Similarly, the GPU was rather quick to throttle, and it plummeted even further down to around 67% of its initial performance in the 3DMark Stress test. That’s still a bit better than the 63% stability rating we got on the iPhone 13, and the absolute results remain in favor of the big phone, too, though we would have preferred to see better sustained performance.
APSI Bench Long-term load CPU test • 3DMark Wild Life stress test

The biggest camera update ever

The iPhone 13 Pro Max features what Apple calls the ‘biggest camera update ever on an iPhone’, a feat it shares with the smaller 13 Pro. The claim sounds justified even simply by looking at the spec sheet – all three rear cameras are new and improved in one way or another.

The primary camera on the back uses a new 12MP sensor with larger pixels – the pixel pitch is now 1.9µm, up from the 1.7µm of last year’s Pro Max. These are the largest single pixels in a smartphone, larger than the 1.8µm of the Xperia 1 III, though Tetrapixel (Quad Bayer) and Nonapixel designs can counter that with effective pixel sizes up to 2.8µm on the Mi 11 Ultra. Apple doesn’t reveal the overall size of the sensor, but it’s a little bit larger than the Xperia’s Type 1/1.7″ – so comfortably smaller than the Mi’s 1/1.12″.

Apple introduced sensor-shift image stabilization on the 12 Pro Max, and the main camera on all 13s is stabilized this way. The lens is only left with focusing to deal with. It’s got a super bright f/1.5 aperture and a 26mm equivalent focal length.

The telephoto is nowhere as bright – in fact, the f/2.8 aperture on this one is the sole camera downgrade compared to last year’s model (f/2.2). The upgrade here is in the reach – the now-77mm equivalent lens offers 3x zoom, up from the 12 Pro Max’s 2.5x. Apple doesn’t advertise the pixel or sensor size of this 12MP imager, but with the tradeoff between focal length and aperture, it’s not inconceivable that it’s the same 1/3.4″ size as before.

No word on the 12MP ultrawide’s sensor size either, but there are significant upgrades to the optics. The lens now lets in more light with its larger f/1.8 aperture (f/2.4 on the outgoing model), but the most important development here is the addition of autofocus. No longer locked at infinity, the new lens can focus far and near alike, enabling the use of the ultrawide camera for closeups.

There’s also a LiDAR scanner that assists the main and portrait cameras with detailed depth maps for portraits and faster autofocus in low-light conditions. Depending on how you look at it, you might say this is the iPhone’s fourth camera.

One thing that hasn’t changed is the selfie camera. It’s the same 12MP unit with a 1/3.6″ sensor and a 23mm focal length f/2.2 aperture lens. There’s no autofocus here, unfortunately. The structured light 3D scanner for FaceID also helps out for Portrait mode here.

Camera app and features

The viewfinder has been mostly the same since the iOS 13 and the iPhone 11. It lets see outside of the frame being captured when using the main and the telephoto cameras thanks to the precise calibration between the three modules. If, however, you find the feature distracting, you can turn it off.

The Apple image processing includes all legacy features like Smart HDR, Night Mode on all cameras, and Deep Fusion.

The Night Mode icon pops up automatically when a low-light scene presents itself, and it will take a pseudo-long-exposure shot, handheld, of course. You will see the seconds suggested next to the Night Mode icon, but if you tap on it, you can change the simulated long exposure or altogether disable it. Usually, it’s between 1 and 2 seconds, but sometimes the phone allows you to go for up to 30 seconds, depending on the available light. You can use this mode on all four cameras.

Deep Fusion is used when light conditions aren’t ideal, say, indoors. It triggers instead of Smart HDR and Night Mode. Deep Fusion uses four frames before you hit the shutter, four more once you do, and one long exposure shot. The Neural engine will select the best frames and create a high-quality HDR photo that is very detailed, sharp, and more natural-looking. The Neural processor’s machine learning magic analyzes the image being taken and processes them differently depending on what’s in the frame – say, sky, foliage, or skin tones. Meanwhile, structure and color tones are based on ratios obtained by the Neural unit on the A15 CPU.

As usual, all cameras talk to each other, so they already know the correct exposure and tone mapping settings when you switch between them. This applies to both stills and videos.

The camera interface is mostly unchanged. You swipe between modes and have a couple of settings you can uncover with an upward swipe – flash, night mode, live photo, photo aspect, exposure compensation, and filters. In video mode, you can change the resolution and frame rate from the viewfinder.

It’s from this interface that you can access the new feature called Photographic Styles. Don’t call it filters (because there are filters too) – this one supposedly automatically edits a photo, one element at a time, applying different corrections to different elements in the frame. You can choose between Standard, Rich Contrast, Vibrant, Warm, and Cool. You can tune each of these modes by your liking and set your preferred one as default.

Portrait mode is available on the main and the telephoto cameras on the back, as well as the selfie cameras. There is no RAW mode on the iPhone 13.

Camera UI

The new hardware and software on the iPhone 13 generation enabled another interesting camera feature – Cinematic Mode. It’s sort of a portrait mode for video – it selectively blurs parts of the frame and does automatic rack focus between them based on the subjects and their interaction. The phone records a depth map alongside the video, so you can change the focus point manually after the fact. Editing such videos is possible in iMovie and Clips apps.

Another new ‘feature’ is the ability to take close-up shots. Enabled by the ultrawide’s camera newfound autofocusing capability, it’s an option you only get on the iPhone 13 Pro and Pro Max, but not on the non-Pros.

That comes with a potentially infuriating side effect that the phone will quietly switch from the main to the ultrawide when you go below the main camera’s minimum focus distance threshold while maintaining the main camera’s field of view – upscaling and all that. There’s more to it, however – the 13 Pro Max will also switch from the tele to the main camera in a similar situation.

That’s a brand new behavior with this one, the 12 Pro Max doesn’t practice this switching, and it’s not like there’s a new development with the focusing capability and relationship between the tele and the main units. We couldn’t find a setting to turn off the auto-switching, but Apple has allegedly promised they will add one with an update later this fall.

Daylight image quality

For all the new hardware, the iPhone 13 Pro Max takes very iPhone-y photos – no dramatic changes here. We’re talking accurate if somewhat unexciting colors, and wide dynamic range, but not in-your-face HDR – iPhones prefer a more contrasty look.

Detail is good – as good as any other 12MP main camera, really. You may not agree with its rendition of intricate textures like grass or leaves when detail outresolves the sensor, but that’s what 12MP can do. Noise, meanwhile, is nearly non-existent.

Daylight samples, main camera (1x)

If you want to spice up and de-iPhone-ize your images, you can always resort to using Photographic Styles, where you can tweak basic global parameters and achieve a more expressive look.

The new telephoto camera maintains the overall vibe of the main one and delivers quality images. They’re sharp and detailed, while noise is minimal. Dynamic range is good, contrast is high, and colors are restrained but likable overall.
Daylight samples, telephoto camera (3x)

The ultrawide, for the most part, continues with a similar quietly competent performance. Global properties are on par with the others, so colors and dynamic range are a great match. On a pixel level, however, we’re seeing some extra softness in these shots and an uptick in noise.

Daylight samples, ultrawide camera (0.5x)

The ultrawide’s newly added autofocusing capability means you can now use it to emphasize perspective and show how subjects relate to their environment.

Daylight samples, ultrawide camera (0.5x)

Macro

Stick the 13 Pro Max even close to your subject, and you can get ‘macro’ shots. Well, technically not macro, but quite extreme closeups. A major issue when doing this is that because of the wide focal length and the resulting very close proximity of the phone to your subject, lighting gets tricky. There’s also the matter that the depth of field at such tiny focus distances is minuscule, and when you add field curvature to that (the plane of focus isn’t strictly a ‘plane’), you get blurry results. Still, with careful lighting, framing, and a steady hand, you can get some pretty impressive closeups with the iPhone 13 Pro Max.
Close-up samples

Low-light image quality

Shooting with the main camera in the default Auto Night mode state, you’d be getting generally excellent low-light images, albeit with less of the familiar ‘Night mode’ brightened up aesthetic that other makers’ Night modes deliver. Indeed, the 13 Pro Max isn’t as aggressive at restoring highlights, nor does it boost shadows quite as much, but opts for a more true-to-life balanced look – or so the narrative goes.

White balance and color saturation are on point most of the time, although a particular type of street lighting might produce results that are off to orange.

Detail is very good outside of the tonal extremes, where Apple’s vision of Night mode refuses to engage – some deep shadows or light sources will be better developed by other Night modes.
Low-light samples, main camera (1x), Auto Night mode

Manually turning off Night mode will take away some of the color saturation, and with it – the orange cast in those couple of scenes. Some minor tonal changes can also be seen in the highlights and shadows, but either there’s still some Night mode in action despite us turning it off, or the Night mode above is very subtle. Overall, there’s not much point in disabling Night mode.
Low-light samples, main camera (1x), Night mode off

At the 3x zoom level, the iPhone 13 Pro Max will still revert to its primary camera if it deems the scene is too dark. There are also instances when a Night mode photo will be taken by one camera and the non-Night mode – by another.

Overall, the images are decent, but nothing remarkable. You do get good sharpness and detail in reasonably lit scenes captured on the actual telephoto, not so with the main camera-sourced ones. In any case, these tend to be underexposed for our liking, which is a shame because we see reserves in highlight dynamic range, which could accommodate a boost in exposure.

The ultrawide camera of the iPhone 13 Pro isn’t a miracle worker but is a noticeable step up from the one on the iPhone 13 or the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Photos taken in Auto Night mode have good sharpness and detail as ultrawides go. Again, we’d probably prefer a brighter exposure, or at least brighter shadows, but that’s not the iPhone way. Colors are accurate, except under that one specific street lamp, and there’s no desaturation.

Switch off Night mode, and the shadows go darker – expectedly. There’s some loss of color pop too. Overall, definitely use Night mode on the ultrawide.

Low-light samples, ultrawide camera (0.5x), Night mode off

Once you’re done with the real-world samples, head over to our Photo compare tool to see how the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max stacks up against the competition.

iPhone 13 Pro Max against the Galaxy S21 Ultra 5G and the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra in our Photo compare tool

Portrait mode

The iPhone 13 Pro Max can take portraits with its main cam or the telephoto. The pros of each are well known – the main camera will get you higher quality images in all situations, but especially in low light; the telephoto lets you stand further back from your subject and has a more ‘portraity’ perspective – and the cons are the opposites.

Subject separation is typically very good though the phone will start blurring your subject’s shoulders even though they may be in the focal plane of their face. Skin tones are really nice and warm, detail is great, and dynamic range is excellent too.

Portrait mode samples, 1x

The telephoto camera isn’t quite as good, and even in broad daylight, it may give you slightly soft images. 3x portraits are also more prone to small mishaps in subject detection, particularly along the borders between clothes and background, but we didn’t observe any actual blunders. It’s easily the more appealing perspective as it avoids the bulging faces you’d be getting out of the wide, 26mm main camera. Dynamic range and colors remain superb.

Portrait mode samples, 3x

Overall, the iPhone 13 Pro Max is a wonderful camera for people shots, whether it’s in Portrait mode or general Photo mode, and regardless of which camera is being used.

Selfies

And yes, that applies to the selfie camera as well. This one isn’t quite as warm and saturated in its overall reproduction but still maintains a likable rendition of skin tones when presented with this reviewer’s mug. Exposure and dynamic range are once again great, whatever noise there is, is not at all bothersome, and resolved detail is superb.

Portrait mode on the selfie camera switches to a cropped in 7MP view, the same one that’s also available for Photo mode selfies. There, that’s the default view when holding the phone in a vertical orientation, and it switches to wide for landscape selfies, but here it’s non-negotiable – 7MP and a crop is the only option.

Aided by the FaceID hardware, the selfie camera is capable of some excellent subject isolation in Portrait mode – truly impressive stuff, actually.

4K60 across the board

The iPhone 13 Pro Max can record video at up to 4K60 with all of its four cameras. 4K24 is also available across the board if you’re after a more cinematic motion look. All videos are digitally stabilized – Apple calls this cinematic video stabilization, and it can’t be turned off. All modes, including the 4K60, feature expanded dynamic range thanks to the Smart HDR. The slow-mo options max out at 1080p at 240fps.

You can also capture HDR videos straight into the Dolby Vision format up to the same maximum 4K60 (the previous generation was limited to 30fps). You can edit these videos on the go on your phone, you can upload them on YouTube or any other popular platform, or even send them to your friends. The Dolby Vision information is saved outside of the video stream, so the video will look normal to any non-HDR player/screen and will be color-boosted on any Dolby Vision-compatible player and display.

You also have a choice between H.265 HEVC and H.264 video encoders. The High-Efficiency mode uses H.265 and is mandatory for 4K60 and HDR footage, while the More Compatible mode (H.264) provides easier playback across different devices.

The iPhone 13s, just like the previous iPhones, capture wide stereo audio for the videos at about 192kbps.

We often praise iPhones’ video quality and the situation is no different with the 13 Pro Max. Main camera footage at 4K30 is properly good in daylight. Dynamic range is excellent, while colors are lively, yet not artificially so. There’s no noise to speak of, and the level of detail is very good. On that last note, while iPhones still maintain a relatively natural rendition of detail, some competitors like the Mi 11 Ultra are even more conservative with sharpening, and the iPhone is no longer the king of… natural-looking footage.

4K60 on the main cam, as well as on all other cameras, is as good as 4K30 – there’s no quality penalty to be paid for the extra smoothness if you prefer to shoot that way. The same goes for 4K24 – you won’t be able to spot a difference between frame grabs from the three frame rates.

The ultrawide continues with similarly strong performance. Global properties remain on the same level as out of the other two cameras, so there’s great parity in terms of color, exposure and dynamic range. Detail is also very good, superior to a Galaxy S1 Ultra. What the iPhone can’t rival here, however, is the Mi 11 Ultra, which is distinctly crispier. Solid output from the iPhone, still.

Low-light videos out of the main camera aren’t too shabby either. Exposure and dynamic range are on point, colors are accurate and not desaturated. Detail is good, but not great – there’s a certain softness when you look at 1:1. Again, the big-sensor Mi 11 Ultra is superior in sharpness and detail here though it can’t seem to match the iPhone’s dynamic range.

3x zoom in these light conditions is, in fact, sourced from the main camera, so it’s no surprise that it’s pretty mushy. You should try to find better-lit scenes for your nighttime video capture.

The view from our office at night is a very demanding scene, particularly so for an ultrawide camera, so don’t be too hard on the iPhone for what you’re seeing. In fact, it does a decent job with exposure and dynamic range, though pixel-level scrutiny is best avoided. Again, this scene is rendered more competently by the big-sensor ultrawide of the Mi 11 Ultra.

On to stabilization. While all of the above clips are stabilized even though they’re shot on a tripod – because you can’t turn off EIS on iPhones, a hand-held test does reveal that, as always, the iPhone 13 Pro Max delivers superb stabilization.

The main and the ultrawide cameras iron out walking shake proficiently. They’ll also stay planted on your subject if you’re just pointing the phone in one direction and have no issues with panning. The telephoto is similarly very well stabilized.

We gave Cinematic mode a try on the 13 Pro as well. The mode simulates rack focus automatically and is shot in 1080p resolution at 30fps. This mode is available on the main and telephoto cameras on the back, as well as on the selfie camera.

Essentially a Portrait mode for video, Cinematic mode simulates blur for everything that should be out of focus. The depth map is created in real time and an algorithm automatically decides which subject should be on focus based on their location in the frame and the way they interact.

The depth map is captured outside the clip, and you can easily edit these clips in iMovie or Clips. You can change the simulated aperture, the subject that gets the focus, and more. So, if the Auto mode doesn’t get it right, nothing is lost – since it’s all done by software, you can fix everything later.

The video quality is very good, and on the Pro Max, we found the automatic transitions to work better. In any case, if you know what you are doing and don’t mind some post-processing, you can make pretty awesome clips.

Here’s a glimpse of how the Apple iPhone 13 Pro Max compares to rivals in our Video compare tool. Head over there for the complete picture.

Competition

What makes an iPhone competitor? Can Androids be on that list, excellent as they may be? Aren’t the 13 Pro Max’s rivals made mainly by Apple, whether this year or last? So many questions.

The biggest camera update ever on an iPhone might go unnoticed if you don’t take photos of small things from up close and if you don’t go out at night and if 2.5x zoom is the same as 3.0x to you (it probably objectively is). Then there’s the matter of the unified processing that renders hardware differences smaller than they seem. And if you can’t see the difference between 120Hz and 60Hz (or care for it), or if your battery life is good enough – which, let’s face it, it is on your 12 Pro Max, then perhaps don’t upgrade from the 12 to the 13 and wait for the major updates expected on the 14.

On the other hand, if all of the above sounds like actual improvements to you, then you have plenty of reasons to justify your thirst for yearly upgrades in front of less enthusiastic folk. Arguably more so than usual, in fact.

Conveniently, if you’re after a big iPhone now and coming from an older Apple or from outside the orchard entirely, the 12 Pro Max has been discontinued in most parts of the world, so that’s easily settled – 13 Pro Max it is.

iPhone 13 Pro Max (left) next to iPhone 12 Pro Max

If the ‘big’ part isn’t as important, the 13 Pro will mostly deliver in the other areas – it has the latest cameras and the 120Hz display. Battery life may not be as earth-shattering on the small one, and that’s the only potential drawback for going small that we can think of.

The 13 non-Pros make less sense in this context since they don’t bring nearly as much to the table as their more advanced stablemates. Then again, there will be those that just want any new iPhone, or the smallest new iPhone, or the very likely last iPhone mini – the 13 and 13 mini will serve those just fine.

Things get trickier if you’re open to cross-platform comparisons. The iPhone 13 Pro Max’s position as the ultimate iPhone means it faces other all-out efforts from the Android side of the divide, and no rival is more apparent than the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra.

Such clashes are hard to evaluate strictly on the merits, and these two are particularly similar, polar opposites as they may be. Industry-leading displays on both, battery life to spare, camera performance that won’t leave you wanting – with minor differences in priorities, of course. It boils down mostly to matters of the heart here – the Galaxy isn’t universally likable in its looks, and neither is the iPhone, and the locked-in iOS vs. do-whatever-you-want Android debate can split people.

This next one is probably not really an option for a huge chunk of prospective iPhone 13 Pro Max buyers, but we can’t help but mention the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra. Apple’s biggest camera update mandates a comparison against our current cameraphone reference standard, and, purely as an image capture device, the Mi still reigns supreme in our book. It’s a properly good phone altogether as well, with little to complain about on the fundamentals. If anyone is faced with this dilemma, philosophical arguments like OS and design are likely to be the key to its resolution, again.

Other more unorthodox alternatives exist, of course. The vivo X70 Pro+, for example, offers a compelling camera system with wide-ranging capabilities. The Oppo Find X3 Pro’s sexy curves are just the opposite of the iPhone’s flat everything, and it’s got a microscope under its belt. The Galaxy Z Fold3 is two devices in one – a phone and a tablet, always in your pocket (it does need to be a big pocket, though).

Verdict

The best iPhone to date isn’t perfect. It’s got recycled looks and an eyesore of a notch, and it weighs as much as a phone and a half. The high refresh rate implementation isn’t great in the early days, the powerhouse that is the A15 chipset tends to throttle a lot, and Apple still has work to do to put any meaning behind ‘fast’ in its ‘fast charging’ claims. Then there’s the matter of iOS, which will forever remain a dealbreaker to some.

But it’s still the best iPhone ever, this 13 Pro Max. The display is properly gorgeous, and 120Hz support in apps will eventually pick up. Battery life is the longest we’ve seen on an iPhone and in its present state is among the best on a top-class smartphone. The chipset is plenty powerful to outpace anything even in its throttled state. And then, there’s the cameras – not quite the absolute best in existence, but they all just work and do so all the time, every time.

A new iPhone purchase is hardly ever rooted entirely in reason. But even setting emotion aside as best as we can, it’s hard to argue with what the iPhone 13 Pro Max has to offer.

Pros

  • Outstanding design – sturdy and water-proof.
  • Brightest OLED screen we’ve seen, super accurate, Dolby Vision, sort of 120Hz.
  • Class-leading battery life (with 60Hz caveats).
  • Loud stereo speakers, excellent output.
  • Unmatched performance.
  • Great all-round photo and video quality across all four cameras.

Cons

  • Stale looks, the notch should have been gone by now.
  • An absolute unit of a phone, 240g is a lot and a case doesn’t make it smaller or lighter.
  • 120Hz refresh rate not widely available in third-party apps at launch.
  • The chipset is prone to heavy throttling under max load.
  • The fast charging isn’t very fast.
  • iOS (with its limitations) remains a love it or leave it affair.
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Mobile Phones

Oneplus Nord N10 Review 2021

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At $299.99, the OnePlus Nord N10 5G teeters on the line between the budget phone and midrange phone markets. It’s one of OnePlus’s first budget phones, and it couldn’t come at a better time, since many people continue to struggle with financial setbacks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. With its sleek design, vivid 90Hz display, and 5G connectivity on T-Mobile’s network, the N10 punches well above its weight, surpassing not just the similarly priced Motorola Moto G Power but also the more expensive Motorola One 5G Ace. It handily wins our Editors’ Choice award for budget phones.

Sharp Looks

The N10 sports a refined design that’s both sleek and functional. At 6.4 by 2.9 by 0.4 inches (HWD) and 6.7 ounces, it’s a big phone, but it doesn’t feel like one. Slight differences in its measurements and weight make it more comfortable to hold than the G Power.

On the front of the phone you’ll find a bezel-less 6.5-inch hole punch display. The 2,400-by-1,080-pixel 90Hz LCD is punchy with excellent color accuracy for the price, and is easy to see in direct sunlight.

The OnePlus Nord N10 5G packs a bezel-free display with a corner hole punch for the selfie camera.

Both the frame and the back of the phone are made of a glossy blue-black plastic. Like all glossy backplates, it quickly collects fingerprints and smudges.

The rectangular rear camera bump, in the top left corner, juts out just enough to give the phone a little wobble when it’s sitting on a desk. You’ll also find a fingerprint sensor back there that’s quick and accurate.

The volume rocker and SIM/MicroSD slot are on the left side of the phone; the Power button is on the right. The buttons provide a satisfying click when tapped and are pretty easy to reach with small hands. The headphone jack, USB-C charging port, and speaker grille sit on the bottom of the phone.

Durability is on par with other budget phones. The display is constructed of Gorilla Glass 3 and should handle small drops and dings without much damage. There’s no IP rating for water resistance, so if you drop it in the tub, be prepared to pay for a new phone.

5G and NFC Too

The Nord N10 5G has limited LTE support for all US carriers, and is optimized for MVNOs and prepaid carriers that use its network.

Sub–6GHz 5G only works on T-Mobile. Overall, 5G connectivity is excellent. Our test speeds averaged 168Mbps down and 78.8Mbps up, which is faster than many broadband connections.

You’ll want to stick with the headphone jack (or Bluetooth) for audio.

Dual-band Wi-Fi is capable of stellar speeds when you don’t need to use mobile data. We tested the N10 on a gigabit network and recorded average speeds of 338.2Mbps down and 38.4Mbps down. That’s significantly better than what we recorded in our Nord N10 preview in 2021.

With a maximum volume of 86dB, the earpiece is loud enough to hear in almost any environment. Call quality is clear and noise cancellation works without a hitch.

The N10’s stereo speakers, which top out at 97dB, fail to impress. Bass is non-existent and mids are aggressively pushed forward. Lower mids sound boxy while the uppers are nasal. Highs are airy with significant distortion at higher volumes. Luckily, there’s a headphone jack to save you.

Bluetooth 5.1 is on board for wearable connectivity. You’ll also find NFC—somewhat rare for phones at this price—for mobile payments and boarding passes.

Peak Performer

A Qualcomm Snapdragon 690 chipset and 6GB of RAM power the Nord N10. There’s 128GB of UFS 2.1 storage on board with about 104GB available out of the box. There’s also a microSD slot should you need more storage.

The N10 ups the ante in just about every way when compared with the Moto G Power. It has a more powerful processor, double the storage, and extra RAM to prevent bottlenecks.

With the exception of some minor boot lag, the N10 feels snappy and responsive. It handles multitasking with ease, and its 90Hz refresh rate means you won’t experience any stutters when scrolling through your Instagram feed.

Gaming, on the other hand, is hit or miss. We noticed a few skipped frames when playing Alto’s Odyssey for an hour, but it didn’t effect the overall experience. On more resource-hungry games such as Genshin Impact, we experienced long load times and plenty of dropped frames. If you’re on the hunt for a solid gaming phone, your least expensive options are the Google Pixel 4a or Apple iPhone SE.

On GeekBench 5, a suite of tests that quantify raw performance, the N10 scored 610 single-core (SC) and 1,834 multi-core (MC). That’s a significant jump over the Moto G Power’s 313 SC and 1,538 MC scores.

The N10’s 4,300mAh battery holds enough juice to get most users through a full day between charges. On our battery drain test, which streams HD video over Wi-Fi at full brightness, the N10 ran for 10 hours, 8 minutes before powering down. That’s about 5 hours behind the Moto G Power, but more conservative use should give you a few more hours of battery life. If you’re concerned about running out of battery midday, a USB-C power bank will give you peace of mind.

There’s a 30W fast charging adapter in the box. Wireless charging is not supported.

Pretty Solid Cameras

On the back of the N10 you’ll find a quad camera stack. The 64MP primary lens has an f/1.8 aperture. There’s also an 8MP ultra-wide sensor with an f/2.3 aperture and 2MP depth and macro sensors with f/2.4 apertures. The front-facing lens is 16MP with an f/2.1 aperture.

The primary and ultra-wide lenses perform well in good light. Our test shots featured excellent depth of field and color accuracy. There’s some loss of fine detail with both lenses, but it’s more prominent on the ultra-wide lens. Overall, our test shots looked excellent for a budget phone.

The primary and ultra-wide lenses on the OnePlus Nord N10 5G both take good photos in good light. Low-light performance is inconsistent even with Night mode enabled. Our best test shots with both lenses had significant light flares and a loss of fine detail; the worst were flat and muddy. The ultra-wide photos were particularly disappointing.

After taking hundreds of photos in our lab trying to isolate the issue, we believe we finally found the culprit. The N10 struggles specifically with low light in the 3,000–4,000K range—the color temperature used for most indoor ambient lighting. Nearly all of our test shots taken with LED panels in this temperature range featured over-aggressive noise cancellation, flattening, and blurring. Distortion also reared its ugly head on test shots taken with the ultra-wide lens.

Low-light photos taken under cooler lights, on the other hand, are acceptable. Our test shots still looked soft, and there were large light flares, but noise cancellation worked as intended and there was less noise and blurring overall.

Our lab tests suggest the image processing on the OnePlus Nord N10 5G struggles with photos taken in warm, low light.

The macro lens on the N10 does a decent job with good light and a steady hand. Our best test shots (taken on a tripod with two LED panels) were soft and lacked the level of detail you’ll get with a macro lens on a good DSLR or mirrorless camera, but weren’t the blurry mess we typically see on other smartphones.

Selfies are surprisingly good in any lighting scenario. In daylight, the 16MP shooter takes a crisp and vivid shot. If you prefer Portrait mode, you’ll be happy to know the N10 does an excellent job of image mapping and creating a natural bokeh. Low-light photos tell much the same story, though you’ll likely notice some loss of fine detail.

Make no mistake: The N10’s cameras are not on par with the more expensive Pixel 4a 5G or even the iPhone SE. If you’re looking to take the best photos possible, you’ll need to pay more for the privilege. But the N10 takes better photos than any other budget phone available in the US, so if you’re a photo fiend who needs to pinch pennies, this is the way to go.

Android 10 Sparkles With Oxygen OS

The N10 ships with Android 10 with OnePlus’s Oxygen OS skin. If you’re not familiar with Oxygen OS, it’s a light-handed, very helpful update to Android’s stock UI.

Oxygen OS adds features you’ll actually want, including an improved Quick Settings menu and a Reading mode that makes the display monochrome to create an e-reader–like experience. There are also a few customized apps, such as Gallery and Messages, that feel more refined than what you’ll find on stock Android.

OnePlus said it will update the N10 to Android 11 later this year. After that, further upgrades are not guaranteed. Samsung’s A-series and Android One phones offer multi-year Android updates, and we hope OnePlus and other budget phone makers will follow suit in the future.

The Budget Phone You’ve Been Waiting For

Motorola’s Moto G series has frequently topped our Editors’ Choice list for budget phones, and when the 2021 models failed to make the grade, we received reader email asking which low-cost phone is the best. The OnePlus Nord N10 5G is our answer. It ticks off all the necessities, has very good cameras for the price, keeps budget phone features such as the headphone jack, and adds a few perks such as 5G connectivity and a 90Hz display.

T-Mobile customers will get the most out of the N10. If you’re not a T-Mobile customer or simply aren’t worried about 5G connectivity, the $350 Google Pixel 4a is a strong LTE alternative that works on every carrier. But when it comes to reasonably priced 5G phones in 2021, the N10 is our top pick.

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Review iPhone 11 Pro Max

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The iPhone 11 Pro Max was the best that Apple could cram into a smartphone in 2019 – the high-end screen, powerful speakers, upgraded processor all support the huge upgrades to the camera. However, this phone is really for the Apple fan or someone that really needs that extra lens or a touch more battery life – the iPhone 11 feels like it offers better value.

Two-minute review

The iPhone 11 Pro Max was the largest and most powerful phone Apple ever created, taking the very best of its technology and combining it with an upgraded design that includes a new matte back, three cameras designed to rival the best from Samsung, Google and Huawei, and an enhanced battery for greater endurance.

The iPhone 11 Pro Max was, until the iPhone 12 Pro Max came along in 2020, and now that’s been outclassed by the iPhone 13 Pro Max released alongside the iPhone 13, iPhone 13 mini, and iPhone 13 Pro. The newest Pro Max phone has some improved specs and cameras alongside a tweaked design from the iPhone 11 Pro Max, but 5G aside it’s only incremental updates and not a revolution.

Digging deeper into the iPhone 11 Pro Max camera, we were impressed most with the Night mode: the iPhone 11 Pro Max is capable of turning night almost into day, but doing so while preserving plenty of detail.

We found the newly-added ultra-wide camera to be handy when you want to squeeze in more of a scene (although we didn’t find we needed it that often) and for improving the background defocus effects… although it still wasn’t perfect in our testing.

The design of the iPhone 11 Pro Max will be familiar to most, with the same design language as the previous two models (the iPhone X and iPhone XS), although the matte back feels nice in the hand. The ‘Max’ size won’t appeal to all, but it does facilitate the large and impressive 6.5-inch OLED display, which offers a brilliant cinematic experience, both visually and through the upgraded stereo speakers.

The camera bump on the rear of the phone feels a little sharp and takes up a lot of space, although if you’re right-handed it stays out of the way when you’re going about your daily tasks.

Apple promises that the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s battery will last five hours longer than the XS Max from the previous year, and that claim is borne out in our tests – it particularly excelled when playing back HDR video on the phone, and the 20-hour battery life for multimedia seems accurate.

In day-to-day use we found that this is just about a 24-hour smartphone (assuming you sleep for a portion of that time), and the fast charger that (finally) comes in the box gives you around 20% in 15 minutes, and a full charge in just an hour and a half.

With iOS 13 on board – and now an update to iOS 14 – the Pro Max feels more refined than previous models, and tweaks to the accuracy and range of Face ID make it simpler to use every day, with things like opening a notification when the phone is placed flat on a desk made much easier.

The raw performance of the iPhone 11 Pro Max also impressed, although we did encounter some slowdown in the camera app; however, if you’re looking to edit video on the go (and don’t forget this phone can shoot 4K at 60 frames per second, and do it well) then you’ll enjoy the extra grunt on offer.

Overall, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is a real step forward, and the most advanced iPhone yet. However, when thinking about what’s truly new here, we weren’t able to single out much beyond the improved camera (especially Night mode) and the slightly upgraded cinematic experience.

If you want to save some money, we’d suggest checking out the iPhone 11 – while we constantly found little nuggets of impressive performance throughout our testing of the 11 Pro Max, we couldn’t shake the feeling that this is really only a phone for the Apple fan who wants the best of everything, with no compromises. And for those fans, there’s now the iPhone 12 Pro Max.

Want to know more? Read on to see our in-depth testing of Apple’s high-end smartphone.

Update: Apple has confirmed the iPhone 11 Pro Max will receive iOS 15 when it lands later this year, so you’ll get all the latest features on this handset.

iPhone 11 Pro Max release date and price

  • iPhone 11 Pro Max was announced on September 10, 2019
  • It came out 10 days later
  • iPhone 11 Pro Max price starts at $1,099 / £1,149 / AU$1,899

The iPhone 11 Pro Max was announced on September 10, 2019 and it came out on September 20 in the US, UK, Australia and a variety of other markets around the globe.

It’s no longer sold directly by Apple now that the iPhone 13 range is out, but it’s still fairly easy to get from third-party stores. That said, the price might be a sticking point as it was the most expensive iPhone out there at launch and it’s still among the priciest now.

Yes, it rivals the cost of some MacBooks in certain territories, but that’s not really a fair comparison – these are different products with different specifications, designed to do very different things. However, it does illustrate how expensive the iPhone 11 Pro Max is.

The iPhone 11 Pro Max price starts at $1,099 / £1,149 / AU$1,899 for the 64GB model. Storage capacity then jumps to 256GB, with an asking price of $1,249 / £1,299  / AU$2,149.

It then goes all the way up to $1,449 / £1,499 / AU$2,499 for the most expensive 512GB model – so if you’re not rich enough to swim regularly in a pool of money, it’s probably time to get saving.

Having said that, many stores are now selling it for less. For example, at the time of writing we can see the iPhone 11 Pro Max on sale for £1,029 / AU1,699 (with most US deals being limited to contracts).

You’ll have noticed the difference in cost between the UK and US – where previously Apple has been matching the dollars and pounds price tag for its iPhones, this time it’s a little different.

In the United States, the standard price of the iPhone 11 Pro Max is the same as that of the phone it succeeds, the iPhone XS Max, but it’s risen in the United Kingdom, which is certainly going to irk some buyers there.

Camera

We don’t usually get into assessing the camera so quickly in our reviews, but the main change in 2019’s iPhone range is to the imaging quality on offer

In terms of hardware, the key difference is the addition of the ultra-wide camera, making it three cameras on the rear of the phone.

These sit proud from the back of the iPhone 11 Pro Max, with the glass square surrounding them matching the color of the phone itself, which helps to minimize the visual impact of three prominent black holes on the rear.

What you’ve got here are a ‘normal’ wide-angle lens, a telephoto lens, and a new ultra-wide one. The telephoto option zooms you 2x closer to your subject, and the ultra-wide-angle lens enables you to cram twice as much of the scene in front of you into the frame.

This is great if you’re trying to get a shot of a group of friends or an animal, but can’t move further back or closer – the iPhone 11 Pro Max will allow you to crop in or pull back without having to move.

All three cameras pack 12MP sensors, which is pretty standard for most smartphones these days, allowing for a good balance between pixel size (to capture more light) and resolution (for capturing plenty of detail).

Video recording has also been improved, with the Pro Max now able to capture 4K at 60 frames per second (fps). This means you’re getting smoother footage thanks to more information being captured, but it’s worth remembering that this will fill up the storage on your iPhone that much quicker.

There’s a lot that can be said about the iPhone’s – or any modern smartphone’s – camera these days, as they pack in so many features, and on the whole you’ll struggle to take a poor-quality snap with any of them.

That means any brand trying to make a market-leading cameraphone needs to fill it with features, and that’s what Apple has tried to do here.

Night mode

The first is Night mode – previous models from Apple have failed to capture truly impressive photos in the gloom, and other brands have stolen a march here, with Samsung, Huawei, and particularly Google leading the way, offering phone cameras that can almost turn night into day through advanced post-processing of images.

Apple’s new Night mode certainly brings it into the conversation – in our eyes, it’s the single biggest reason to buy a new iPhone. You’ll need to hold the phone steady, or brace it or mount it on a tripod, but if you do you’re rewarded with the ability to take pictures with detail that even your eyes can’t see.

Depending on the light levels (and whether you’re using a tripod or not) the iPhone will ask you to hold still for between 2-5 seconds normally – however, you can manually extend this up to 30 seconds (if the iPhone is in a tripod or leant against a wall) to get ‘fully bright’ scenes.

The results were sometimes staggering – the levels of sharpness and brightness the iPhone can achieve using Night mode have to be seen to be believed.

We say the results were sometimes staggering, because if you introduce any motion the whole picture is ruined. This means that if you’re trying to snap some friends dancing, it’s not going to work at all, and you’ll need to turn off Night mode to get any kind of sharpness (although the pictures are still fairly bright).

Better portrait mode

The other upgrade to the static camera is to Portrait mode: not only is it better at figuring out the outlines of the person, animal or other subject that you want to keep sharp, it’s also now able to work at a ‘normal’ distance, as well as zoomed in as on previous models, thanks to the extra sensor being able to pick up more information about depth.

The results are pretty good, especially when you’re snapping people in well-lit, contrasting scenes – in fact, get such shots right and the images can be stunning. You can play with the different lighting modes on offer to hide blemishes, or use the new High Key Mono option to create a more ethereal, stylized picture.

However, when taking some images, hair recognition was still a problem, and the iPhone 11 Pro Max struggled to get the head of a cat fully sharp. Taking pictures of objects should work better, but we found that generally these were a little fuzzy around the edges too.

However, the overall quality of photos, especially compared to the iPhone XS Max of last year, is brighter and sharper as you’d expect. The ultra-wide camera is nice to use if you remember it’s there, but the results were slightly distorted in areas, despite Apple’s best efforts to solve this with image processing.

Snapping between the camera modes wasn’t always smooth, especially with the ultra-wide-sensor juddering a little, and often we’d turn on the camera and be met with a blank preview that only some mode-switching could fix.

We’ve actually skipped over some of the ‘normal’ camera mode results of the iPhone because they’re just as good as last year – images are generally bright, in focus and full of detail and color. Apple’s snaps are less saturated than those from the cameras of some rival brands, and blow up well, displaying lovely levels of clarity.

In the video mode too, things are improved – our sense is that the 4K, 60fps mode is more of a headline feature than a really useful one, but if you’re a serious photographer or videographer looking to buy this phone (as the name of the iPhone 11 Pro Max would suggest) then you’ll want such features; the detail is richer and – crucially – the exposure is more balanced, meaning you can create better-looking movies.

This feature is really only something that will appeal to the social media elite, those wanting to take truly head-turning footage with an iPhone, and with the onboard editing suite allowing you to alter the color and filters of the entire video directly on your device, there’s a lot to enjoy here.

One thing we didn’t enjoy was the use of the word ‘Slofies’ in Apple’s marketing – these are just slow-motion videos that can now be captured with the front-facing camera, and you shoot them on all three of the new iPhones.

The results are fine – most users will likely find them entertaining and share-worthy – but it’s that name that grates.

Design

Apple might not have changed the design of the iPhone 11 Pro Max on the front (compared to last year’s XS Max) but on the rear things are much improved: there’s a new matte glass back that feels noticeably different in the hand – it’s much less prone to smudges and fingerprints, and feels like an upgrade.

The rest of the design is very similar to what we’ve seen from Apple in recent years: the notch remains, the sides are curving stainless steel and the bottom of the phone houses a Lightning connector and two speaker grilles (for symmetry – only one actually fires sound outwards).

It’s large in the hand, sure, but not overly so – if you’ve used the Plus or Max phones of recent years from Apple you’ll find the 11 Pro Max more than manageable day to day.

The main new design element is one we’ve already talked about: the camera bump on the rear of the phone. It’s sharp on the edges, as it’s made by milling the glass down and rolling it into the rear of the phone. Be warned: don’t put this phone in your pocket with another device, as the bump can easily scratch another screen.

Ultimately, the design of the iPhone 11 Pro Max is pretty much identical to that of the iPhone XS Max – to the point where we managed to factory-reset the wrong phone during the testing process (much to our loud annoyance).

The iPhone 11 Pro Max colors are attractive: midnight green, space gray, silver and gold. The dark green is easily the most attractive in our mind, and the most obvious statement you can make to announce ‘People of the city, I have BOUGHT A NEW iPHONE!’

Although you’ll probably then want to put it in an iPhone 11 Pro Max case to protect it, because it’s really expensive and you don’t want to be explaining to your other half that you’ve ruined it in a week’s time.

Display

Aside from the camera, the iPhone 11 Pro Max screen (we can’t get over how infuriating that name is to write) is one of the main selling points for this high-end, expensive phone.

What you’re getting is 6.5 inches of screen real estate, with an OLED panel that’s once again been refined by Apple. It features True Tone technology to better match the ambient lighting conditions (altering the white balance depending on the lighting situation you’re in) as well as a fluid screen – although not quite as fluid as the higher refresh rates we’ve seen on the iPad Pro, for instance.

The new OLED screen seems to have more of a yellow tinge when you’re viewing white scenes or looking at photographs – these tints aren’t present when images are viewed on a computer screen, for example, so it appears to be and issue with the calibration of the device.

This tint is also noticeable when the 11 Pro Max is held next to the iPhone XS Max from 2018 – but it’s slight, and images don’t look bad when viewed in isolation.

One of the key upgrades here is the ability to play Dolby Vision content – it might not sound like much of a step up from HDR10 (the normal version of high dynamic range playback most phones use to punch up the dark and light parts of the scene and make everything more visually appealing), but it does make a difference.

Watching films feels more immersive – you can see more detail, and overall the video playback is far more cinematic. That’s because the iPhone can usually only display 800 nits of brightness (the metric for how bright the screen can get), which is still pretty good – but when playing a Dolby Vision film things get even more impressive (up to 1200 nits, according to Apple).

If you’ve not got anyone around you, that cinematic feel can be improved by playing sound out of the speakers – Apple has created a virtual surround sound setup, and while it’s not as good as hearing the same thing through a decent pair of headphones, the sound does feel like it’s moving around your ears.

Again, it’s not a new thing for the smartphone industry, but it does show that Apple is still working to offer the best-possible media experience all these years after the release of the iPod.

Battery

Apple made a big claim about the improvements to the iPhone 11 Pro Max battery life, pointing to the fact that it would be able to last for five hours longer than the iPhone XS Max.

The reason for this is curious – that’s a big boost in terms of the size of the power unit, without affecting the thickness of the device. Could it be that Apple was intending to unveil the reverse wireless charging feature that was rumored in the build-up to the iPhone 11 launch, but wasn’t able to get it working to the necessary degree?

Well, whether that conspiracy theory is true or not, the battery life on the iPhone 11 Pro Max is strong indeed, and here’s how we fared on the third day of testing…

Taking the iPhone off charge at 7pm, we watched a Dolby Vision-enabled movie for nearly two hours on auto brightness, before using the phone to navigate us home for around 50 minutes (streaming music over Bluetooth at the same time); we also did some messaging and tried to pair a Garmin watch before going to bed just before midnight, at which point the phone was down to around 62%.

Overnight, things were quiet and the standby mode only lost 5-6% battery over seven hours, meaning we started the day with over 50% battery left.

A hard day of testing, which included playing games, watching streamed video, testing the camera and running benchmarks (the latter option there being particularly hard on the battery life) saw the iPhone 11 eventually expire just before 6pm (we didn’t turn on battery-saving mode).

That’s a pretty impressive performance, and not an achievement we’d have expected based on the performance of the iPhone XS Max last year – so it seems that Apple’s claims of a more powerful battery are indeed true.

When it comes to powering up this phone, you’ve got two options: there’s wireless charging (which we urge you to invest in: get a wireless charger for the home and office, if you have one, and you’ll never have a battery worry again), or the fast charger in the box.

We tested the iPhone 11 Pro’s charging capability from absolutely flat, and it was rapid indeed: after just 15 minutes it was nearly at 25%, more than enough to get you somewhere in a pinch. The full charge took just 90 minutes, so getting the fast charger in the box certainly makes the high cost of the 11 Pro Max a little more bearable.

iOS 13, iOS 14 and performance

The iPhone Pro 11 Max launched running iOS 13, which at the time was the most advanced software Apple had to offer. Of course, since then iOS 14 has launched and come to the phone. This adds a lot of things, with highlights including an App Library (like the app drawers found on Android phones) and home screen widgets.

Back onto the out-of-the-box software of iOS 13, there are some nice animated tweaks with the platform, with things like the volume and call-silencing notifications now more rounded and – finally – interactive too.

Face ID has been improved too: not its accuracy as such, but in terms of the field of view the camera can take in. While the iPhone 11 Pro Max’s front-facing camera isn’t any better at picking up faces than the model from last year, it’s easier to unlock it when sitting at your desk – we didn’t need to pick up the phone to read a message as much as we did with 2018’s iPhone XS Max.

If you’re someone who finds yourself often flipping between Wi-Fi networks or Bluetooth connections, a long press in the relevant toggles in Control Center (those options you get when you drag down from the top-right of the iPhone 11 Pro Max screen) will allow you to choose the network you want.

You’ll notice we said ‘long press’ not ‘hard press’ there – where previous high-end iPhones have used 3D Touch, enabling users to prod the screen harder to open up other menus or fire up the camera, for instance, that technology isn’t used in the new iPhone 11 range.

Instead you’ve got an upgraded haptic engine, where the rumbles under the finger feel even more like a mechanical button when activated, and a long-press system whereby holding your finger on an option will enable other menus.

This feels intuitive very quickly when you start using the iPhone 11 Pro Max, although it does get confusing when you’re trying to rearrange icons on the homepage – you’ll need to select from a menu or wiggle your finger to start moving things around.

In terms of raw performance, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is the most powerful iPhone on the market – and one of the most powerful smartphones too.

If you take things down to the raw stats, a quick flick through Geekbench 5 shows a score of 3420 – that makes the 11 Pro Max around 10% more powerful than the iPhone 11, and more than 20% better than the iPhone XS Max from last year.

We believe the Pro handsets have the most RAM of any iPhone, so it makes sense that the overall benchmarking scores are higher.

But these are just numbers – what about the actual performance of the iPhone 11 Pro Max in day-to-day use? Well, you’ll struggle to get to a point where apps start to slow down when you’re opening and closing them – you can fire up any number and be able to instantly start using them. The 11 Pro Max is slick under the finger, to say the very least.

The camera is the only area where we’ve seen slight issues with speed: it takes a second to load the app (and as we’ve mentioned, it can sometimes freeze), and when you’re taking pictures the ultra-wide camera preview, which shows the zoomed-out shot outside the standard frame, doesn’t appear instantly when the shutter button is pressed.

Loading a photo to edit takes a second or two as well, as does saving some of the image manipulations – while we appreciate that there’s a huge amount of processing going on here, we would have expected things to be a little snappier, rather than having to watch a spinning progress wheel appearing from time to time.

There were also occasions where scrolling through a downloaded film to get to a particular scene froze the footage, which was annoying when we were trying to find a brighter scene to test the quality of the display.

However, in general the power of the iPhone 11 Pro Max does extend to its media capabilities. We’ve already talked about the image quality for movies, but the sound quality – even on streaming services like Spotify – is impressive; the sound through a decent pair of headphones felt rich and strong, with more detail in the audio than you might expect from some smartphones.

Buy it if…

You want the very best iPhone out there
There’s no better iPhone on the market in terms of performance or spec – the battery life, the cinematic quality of movies, the overall punch of the processor… this is the top dog from Apple.

You enjoy watching movies on the go
As we’ve said above, the combination of the bright screen, Dolby VIsion and enhanced OLED capabilities make watching top-end movies a great experience – and Apple will automatically upgrade your collection to the best quality available.

You need power fused with good battery life
The iPhone 11 Pro Max does just that: combines the best power of any iPhone with the longest battery life we’ve seen from an Apple handset (although it seems to vie with the iPhone 11 in our testing for that honor).

Don’t buy it if…

You’re watching the pennies
A phone that starts at $1,099 / £1,149 / AU$1,899 isn’t going to be everyone’s idea of a must-have device – if you’re on a budget, consider the iPhone 11 or even models from 2018.

You want the most advanced features
While this is the most advanced iPhone, there are plenty of other features that are missing here but which other brands offer: reverse wireless charging, more cameras, or 5G. If you want all the very latest smartphone features, Apple’s offerings are rarely the place to find them.

You don’t really need the Pro version
Come on – some of you are reading this out of fantasy. You’re just wondering how good this handset can be while you’re contemplating a new iPhone, and for you, the iPhone 11 will bring a lot of joy… you know you don’t really need that bump in power or extra lens.

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Review iPhone XS Max – Should you buy iPhone XS Max?

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The iPhone XS Max (pronounced ‘Ten S Max’) was the largest smartphone Apple had ever released when it launched in September 2018. With a 6.5-inch display, hardly any screen bezel, and the now-iconic top-screen notch, it was a dominating presence in the hand.

Sure, it’s no longer one of Apple’s latest phones after being superseded by the iPhone 11 range in 2019, the iPhone 12 range in 2020, and lastly the iPhone 13 lineup in 2021. Among those is the iPhone 13 Pro Max, the latest big iPhone which has stretched out to a 6.7-inch display in the same-sized frame, and improved the cameras and specs to boot.

While no longer the biggest and fastest iPhone out there, the iPhone XS Max is still an impressive piece of kit: It’s fast, has great cameras, and longer-lasting battery than most of Apple’s lineup. And after being on the market for a few years, you can pick it up for a bargain now.

Just don’t expect to pick it up from Apple directly: the tech giant dropped the iPhone XS Max from its stores to simplify the product range, but it’s still available from retailers and carriers – and at a significantly lower cost than when it launched.

While the iPhone XS Max was the largest and most expensive iPhone at launch with its 6.5-inch display, it’s been surpassed in both size and cost by premium Android flagships. The phone still dominates your pocket, which was a bold statement from a firm that had resisted expanding its phones’ screen sizes to the same enormous degree as its Android rivals.

For those who crave more screen for video and gaming on the go, the expansive display of the iPhone XS Max (and newer iPhone 12 Pro Max) are a welcome part of Apple’s lineup, while those wanting a premium experience without the supersized dimensions can take comfort that it’s launched alongside the smaller iPhone XS – though if you want small, the iPhone 12 mini is the tiniest iPhone in years.

And while it misses out on the iPhone 12 Pro Max’s truly impressive night photography, the iPhone XS Max retains nearly all the perks inherited by its replacement. For a lower cost, you’re still getting a plus-sized iPhone with the best iOS has to offer (with all the perks of iOS 14) and a great display for binging media.

Update: Apple has released iOS 15 and confirmed that the software will come to the iPhone XS Max. Highlights of iOS 15 include the ability to include Android users on FaceTime calls, additional details in Apple Maps, statuses for Messages, and much more. Simply open the Settings  app and go to General > Software Update to upgrade for free.

Watch our 48-hour review of the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max video below

iPhone XS Max price and availability

  • iPhone XS Max 64GB price: $1,099 (£1,099, AU$1,799)
  • iPhone XS Max 256GB price: $1,249 (£1,249, AU$2,049)
  • iPhone XS Max 512GB price: $1,449 (£1,449, AU$2,369)
IPHONE XS MAX SPECS

Weight: 208g
Dimensions: 157.5 x 77.4 x 7.7mm
OS: iOS 12
Screen size: 6.5-inch
Resolution: 1242 x 2688
CPU: Apple A12 Bionic
RAM: 4GB
Storage: 64/256/512GB
Battery: 3,174mAh
Rear camera: 12MP + 12MP
Front camera: 7MP + ToF

Apple no longer sells the iPhone XS Max, but when it did, it charged a lot. Luckily, you can still find the handset at other retailers, carriers and networks.

As we’ve already hinted, this is a premium phone with an even more premium price tag. The iPhone XS Max started at $1,099 (£1,099, AU$1,799) for the 64GB model, which is $100 (£100, AU$170) more than the iPhone XS.

If you want more internal storage, the 256GB iPhone XS Max price was $1,249 (£1,249, AU$2,049), while the most expensive 512GB version will set you back a staggering $1,449 (£1,449, AU$2,369).

At the time of launch, there was no mainstream smartphone that costs more than the 512GB iPhone XS Max did at launch, putting it in a league of its own in terms of pricing. Now, there are even more expensive mainstream phones but this is still a lot of money for a handset.

Plus, the launch of the iPhone 11 and 12 families have brought the price down. At the time of our latest update to this review, the handset with 64GB of storage cost around $600, £600 or AU$800.

That said, it’s getting increasingly hard to find new models of the iPhone XS Max, so if you really still want to buy it you might have to settle for a refurbished handset. Of course, the price of those is even lower.

Design

  • Same design as iPhone X, but bigger
  • A touch shorter and narrow than the iPhone 8 Plus, with a bigger screen

The iPhone XS Max design is deceptive. Pick it up, and the rounded sides of the handset make it feel noticeably thick.

The result is a phone that doesn’t sit as comfortably in the hand as it could, and considering the size and cost of the XS Max it’s a phone you want to be able to securely hold. This is only half the story though.

We compared the iPhone XS Max to a number of phones during our in-depth review, including the Samsung Galaxy Note 9 (6.4-inch screen), OnePlus 6T (6.41-inch) and Sony Xperia XZ3 (6-inch), and the iPhone felt thicker, and less planted in the hand than all of them.

The funny thing is though, the iPhone XS Max is thinner than all of those phones at just 7.7mm.

The reason for this is simple: tapered edges. The Samsung, Sony and OnePlus all taper their rear edges, giving the impression of a thinner device while also allowing them to sit a little better in the curvature of your hand.

The iPhone XS Max has a totally flat back that’s a little more awkward to hold, and we found that a tactfully-placed pinkie finger on the underside of the phone was a must for one-handed use.

What’s more impressive is that the XS Max manages to squeeze a huge 6.5-inch display into a body that’s a touch shorter and narrower (at 157.5 x 77.4mm) than the iPhone 8 Plus, which only boasts a 5.5-inch display.

While the iPhone XS Max does feel a little chunky in the hand there’s no questioning the fact that you’re getting a huge amount of display real estate crammed into a form factor which does a good job of keeping it usable.

The steel frame around the outside and the new formulation of glass on the front and rear – which is tougher than the glass on the iPhone X – give the iPhone XS Max a supremely premium look and feel, while its resistance to dust and water has also been enhanced.

Apple has upped the protection to IP68, enabling the iPhone XS Max to be submerged to a depth of up to two meters for 30 minutes without suffering any ill effects. Apple claims it’s tested the protection in a number of liquids, including salt water, chlorinated water, milk, wine and beer, although we wouldn’t advise purposefully exposing the handset to any of these.

It’s worth noting that Apple’s warranty, like those of all phone manufacturers, doesn’t cover ‘liquid contact’ damage, which means if the liquid resistance does fail on the iPhone XS Max you won’t be covered.

There’s no headphone jack on the iPhone XS Max. The port is now totally dead after Apple killed off the iPhone 6S and iPhone SE post-iPhone XS launch (the last two handsets with the 3.5mm jack that were available from the firm’s site), which means you get a centralized Lightning port alongside speaker and microphone holes on the base of the iPhone XS Max.

There’s a pair of Apple EarPods with a lightning connector in the box with the iPhone XS Max, but if you plug this into the lightning port on the base of the phone you can’t connect the charging cable to it at the same time.

Thankfully, the iPhone XS Max also supports wireless charging, so if you have a charging pad to hand you can top the handset up while listening to a wired set of headphones.

The power/lock key is on the right side of the XS Max, and is easy enough to hit with thumb or forefinger, while the volume keys sit below the physical mute switch on the left of the handset.

Hold the power/lock key down and you’ll bring up Siri, which means turning off the iPhone XS Max requires you to hold down the power and volume up keys until an on-screen prompt appears.

The SIM card tray continues to be located below this key, but there’s a new feature inside the iPhone XS Max (and XS). The handset is dual SIM enabled, with an eSIM embedded inside the handset.

This allows you to insert a SIM from the carrier of your choice, and then enable the eSIM on a different plan or carrier. It’s worth noting that not all carriers support eSIM technology, and availability varies by region, so make sure you check before signing up to anything.

Overall though, Apple hasn’t moved far from the design of the iPhone X with the iPhone XS Max, other than to stretch it a little. There is, however, a new color option over the X.

Apple introduced a new gold finish for both the iPhone XS Max and XS, and it’s a little richer than the more subtle gold finish option for the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus. If you find the gold a bit too much, the iPhone XS Max also comes in Silver and Space Gray.

Display

  • Huge 6.5-inch OLED display is the biggest ever on an iPhone
  • HDR support for an enhanced viewing experience

One of the main things – well, really the only main thing – that’s different about the iPhone XS Max over the the smaller iPhone XS is the screen, extended as it is to 6.5 inches compared to the 5.8 inches of the ‘normal’ XS.

That screen size makes all the difference though – holding the two iPhones side by side you feel like the larger model just offers so, so much more space to play with.

It’s not even that large, as we’ve mentioned in the design section, given that it fits into roughly the same footprint as the iPhone Plus models of the last four years, so while you are getting loads of screen, this isn’t a massive iPhone in comparison. It’s also no longer the largest iPhone, with the 6.7-inch iPhone 12 Pro Max having it beat.

We’re still not sold on the need for HDR as a ‘must’ in a smartphone though – watching Avengers: Infinity War on the iPhone XS Max was a pleasing experience thanks to the larger display, but there wasn’t a moment where we were wowed by the color reproduction, or the contrast between light and dark scenes.

That’s not to say it wasn’t good, but it’s not jaw-dropping enough to warrant buying this phone for that feature alone – although that said, Apple isn’t charging a premium to own its content in HDR from the iTunes Store, so really it’s a ‘nice-to-have’ feature.

However, we did notice that the action in the film juddered a fair bit, which was quite jarring. We initially thought this was due to low battery, but even when the phone was charged up the same effect was present.

The OLED panel that makes up the Super Retina HD display in the iPhone XS Max is bright and colorful though, and has a 2688 x 1242 resolution, which equates to a 458ppi pixel density. Gone are the days where we bemoaned Apple’s handsets for being behind the times in terms of resolution.

All those pixels mean a super-sharp display, with images and text rendered clearly. Apple claims the display on the iPhone XS Max (and iPhone XS) boasts 60% better dynamic range versus the iPhone X, making photos and videos appear more vivid.

Comparing the iPhone XS Max side-by-side with the Sony Xperia XZ3 however, HD movie playback looked better on the Sony.

Apple has upgraded the speakers on the iPhone XS Max to be ‘wider’ by firing the sound directly at each ear – it’s hard to fully test this, but we did notice there was a ‘deeper’ rumble from the phone, and the sound quality impressed.

Image quality is noticeably sharper on the XZ3 – helped in part by its superior pixel density – and it’s able to pull out more tonal variation when watching dark content than the XS Max, thanks to Sony’s smart upscaling technology.

Face ID

  • There’s no Touch ID, with Face ID your only biometric option
  • Not the fastest, but has great integration with banking apps

Face ID is the biometric of choice for Apple these days, replacing the Touch ID fingerprint scanner and embedding itself in the notch at the top of the display.

Apple says it’s more secure, and slightly faster, but it’s not quite perfect. We’ve used a lot of face unlock features on phones recently, and Face ID still feels a little slow in comparison.

Pick the iPhone XS Max up to wake the screen (or hit the power/lock key), and in the time it takes you to swipe upwards to unlock the phone, Face ID will recognize you.

It’s simple enough, but we’ve seen faster recognition on the OnePlus 6, and face unlock on that phone is also better if you’re glancing at it from an angle.

The delay on the iPhone XS Max isn’t huge, but it’s just long enough to notice the small lag if you’ve used an alternative system. We that noted Face ID also struggled in direct sunlight – which is going to be a problem for any facial recognition system – and it’s a use case where a fingerprint scanner wouldn’t have any issues.

Integration of Face ID into apps is very good, with our banking apps supporting the technology in lieu of a fingerprint scanner, making it easy to securely sign into our accounts.

iOS 12

  • The latest OS from Apple comes with new features including Screen Time
  • You’ll want to enable ‘Reachability’ in Settings for better one-handed use

The iPhone XS Max arrived with the iOS 12 operating system on board, with handy little additions such as grouped notifications and an easier to access (and manage) multi-tasking window arriving alongside bigger features such as Screen Time, which tracks how often you use your phone, and what you’re using it for.

From the Screen Time menu in settings you can set yourself usage limits, helping you use your phone less. You can read more about Screen Time, the other new features in iOS, and how the software performs on the new XS handsets, in our iPhone XS review and iOS 12 explainer.

It’s worth noting too that since launch the iPhone XS Max has been updated to iOS 12.1.4, gaining additional emoji and Group FaceTime in the process, and then iOS 12.2, iOS 12.3 and iOS 12.4.

If you like iOS 12, you’ll likely also enjoy iOS 13 that landed on the phone in 2019, and iOS 14 that’s been available on it since 2020. So if all you want is the latest software, you won’t need to pick up an iPhone 12.

We’ve yet to test these software updates on this phone so we haven’t updated our review with our findings, but they bring a variety of new features to your phone such as a dark mode option, an App Library, home screen widgets, and more.

As on the iPhone X, one feature is noticeably absent from Apple’s trio of 2018 devices: the home button. Not only does that mean there’s no Touch ID fingerprint scanner – Face ID has you well covered on the iPhone XS Max – there’s no home button at all.

Instead you’re required to use Apple’s new gesture navigation, introduced with the button-less iPhone X. While some may be disappointed by the lack of a physical button on the front of the iPhone XS Max, the good news is that the gesture inputs are easy to learn.

You swipe up anywhere along the bottom of the screen to exit an application, while extending this swipe takes you into the multi-tasking window, where you can jump between, and remove apps from, the sideways-scrolling list of thumbnails.

It’s pretty much business as usual then, but the increased size of the iPhone XS Max presents its own problems – chiefly, attempting to reach the top of the display.

Never have our fingers encountered such a tall screen on an iPhone, and stretching our thumb towards the notch isn’t easily, especially when holding the phone in one hand.

On Apple’s past Plus models a double click of the home button would draw the screen down 50%, allowing you to tap the required action at the top of the screen. The feature is called Reachability, but oddly on the iPhone XS Max – arguably the phone where it’s most warranted – it’s not turned on by default.

It is there though, in Settings > Accessibility, and instead of double clicking the home button, you swipe down, over the bottom of the screen to engage it. When enabled it’s easy to use – we’d argue easier than double clicking the home button – and makes one-handed use much more achievable.

With more screen real estate it provides more space for applications, and Apple has taken advantage of this in a few of its own apps. Turn the iPhone XS Max to landscape and you’ll get a split view in the Calendar and Messages apps, allowing you to view more information with the screen divided in half.

It’s useful, but limited to only a few apps; however this split-view functionality will likely be implemented by more developers in the coming months as the XS Max starts to get into the hands of consumers.

Developers are specifically coding for the iPhone XS Max’s huge screen in more ways too. One example is Nat Geo’s website, which re-renders when you flip into landscape mode, taking advantage of the full width of the display for an enhanced browsing experience.

The likelihood is that in the coming months landscape experiences on the iPhone XS Max are only going to get better as more developers look to take advantage of the additional screen real estate.

A12 Bionic chip

  • Apple’s new chip is 40% more efficient and 50% more powerful
  • Results in fluid navigation and fast app load times

The iPhone XS Max is powered by Apple’s A12 Bionic chip, which promises to be 40% more power-efficient than the previous year’s model, while the GPU is said to be 50% more powerful than the A11 Bionic chip in the iPhone X. Of course, the A13 Bionic in the newer iPhone 11 Pro Max and the rest of that range is better still, not to mention the A14 Bionic in the iPhone 12 range.

That means the iPhone XS Max is no longer one of the most powerful phones around, but it still holds up well.

Using the XS Max alongside the X in our initial review period, it was clear that the new handset has the beating of the A11-powered device. From general navigation around the handset, to editing the lighting in portrait shots, to loading up games such as Clash Royale and PUBG, the iPhone XS Max is noticeably quicker.

We ran the Geekbench 4 CPU test on the iPhone XS Max, and came out with an average multi-core score of 11,465.

That’s higher than the iPhone X (and every 2018 Android flagship), which scored an average of 10,247, starkly illustrating the improvements made by Apple with the A12 Bionic chip.

What this means is that navigating iOS on the iPhone XS Max is a clean, slick experience, with no signs of slowdown.

That’s partly down to Apple’s excellent integration of hardware and software, and we expect performance to stay at this level several months into using the phone.

Battery life

  • Better battery life than the iPhone X
  • Lasts a whole day on a single charge

Battery life has long been a contentious point for iPhones, but the iPhone XS Max has a couple of things in its favor in this department.

First up is the newer, more power-efficient A12 Bionic chip – which also lands in the iPhone XS and iPhone XR – which should be able to eke extra life from every mAh in the power pack.

Secondly, there’s the power pack itself. It’s said to be 3,174mAh, which is larger than the 2,691mAh one found inside the iPhone 8 Plus, and it makes it the biggest battery Apple has ever put inside a phone.

Apple says the iPhone XS Max battery offers an additional 90 minutes of power over the iPhone X. While it’s unclear how Apple arrived at that particular figure, we can be sure about one thing: the iPhone XS Max can last a day on a single charge with moderate to high usage.

That’s with us taking the phone off charge at around 7am, and then plugging it in just before midnight with just a few percent left in the tank and low power mode enabled.

Our usage generally consisted of a couple of hours of gaming, a couple of hours of music and podcast streaming, a mix of social media, email, web browsing, messaging and call activity, plus a few snaps here and there. We also had an Apple Watch 3 connected during the whole review period.

If you’re going to push the handset with an intensive app such as PUBG, the battery is going to take more of a battering, but still won’t be a major drain.

A couple of hours of hotspot usage on the iPhone XS Max however, ultimately ended up with it dying at around 7pm, so if you rely on your phone to provide an internet connection to your other devices you’ll want to carry a charger with you.

This isn’t a phone that will last you a day and a half to two days with moderate usage, but if you’re less intensive then this is possible as on the lighter days we managed to head to bed with at least 30% of power remaining.

However, if you’re a lighter user in general you may want to hold on for the iPhone XR, which still offers a big screen, but a lower price which may be more suited to your usage pattern.

The iPhone XS Max is there to stream video and play games, with a battery that should keep you going all day with these intensive activities. Having said that, all three iPhone 11 range handsets have better life according to Apple.

Wireless charging is convenient if you have charging pads, but they need to be purchased separately, as does the fast-charging block that will enable you to juice up your iPhone in double-quick time – this was rumored to be coming in the box with the new iPhone XS pair, but didn’t materialize.

The iPhone XS Max supports wireless charging thanks to its glass back
The iPhone XS Max supports wireless charging thanks to its glass back

Camera

On the surface it appears that the iPhone XS Max has the same camera as the iPhone X.

The protruding module on the rear of the handset still houses two 12MP snappers in a vertical stack, separated by a Quad-LED True Tone flash.

As before one camera is telephoto and the other wide-angle, with the same f/1.8 and f/2.4 apertures, but there is a key difference.

The iPhone XS Max and XS both feature Smart HDR, an improved mode over the standard ‘HDR’ on the X, which improves shots with high contract, ensuring all areas of the photo are well lit and detailed.

The size of the pixels have also been increased in Apple’s latest dual-camera setup, allowing the iPhone XS Max to pull in more light, which results in improved low-light performance.

Apple’s camera app is easy to use, with settings kept to a minimum for an intuitive and straightforward shooting experience.

You can jump quickly between the two ‘zoom’ levels by tapping the ‘1x’ icon on screen which takes you closer to your subject without negatively effecting quality.

Slide across to portrait mode and snap a picture and you’ll find there’s another new feature in store for you on the iPhone XS Max.

Once you’ve taken a portrait shot, head to the gallery and tap edit. You’ll then be presented with a slider at the bottom of the image, allowing you to adjust the level of background blur.

This is something we’ve seen on multiple Android phones over the years, but it’s the first time the feature has been implemented on iPhone, and it’s a welcome addition.

Moving round to the front, and the 7MP camera has also been upgraded over the selfie snapper on the iPhone X.

It also benefits from the new Smart HDR mode, and gets the addition of portrait mode. While the rear cameras capture the depth in a shot for a natural blur effect, the front camera works out the bokeh effect digitally.

The results are very good, but it’s not quite as adept at cutting out the subject. Messy, fluffy hair can fool it, and sometimes the blur effect can spill over slightly onto the edges of the foreground.

All-in-all, the dual-camera on the iPhone XS Max is a small improvement over the iPhone X. If you look closely at the same scene show on each handset you’ll notice the differences, but this isn’t a huge leap forward in smartphone photography.

For a more detailed look at Apple’s new camera setup take a look at our iPhone XS camera review, as that phone has exactly the same camera.

Verdict

The iPhone XS Max is something special. This is the first time Apple has really pushed its screen size boundaries, and by offering a huge 6.5-inch display it’s made its smartphone line attractive to a new segment of potential customers.

Apple’s App Store and iTunes are filled with great apps, games, movies and TV shows, and the firm now, finally, has a handset that can really make the most of them thanks to the massive screen on the iPhone XS Max.

The extra screen real estate will be music to the ears of gamers, while HDR support will please those addicted to Netflix and Amazon Prime video – and while the iPhone XS Max screen isn’t the best on the market, it is the best screen on an iPhone, ever.

Apple’s updates to the rear cameras (over the iPhone X) are minimal, but the ability to adjust the background blur on portrait shots and the improved Smart HDR mode offer greater flexibility and ultimately better image quality.

And while the iPhone XS Max is a big phone, it’s also impressively compact. It’s a touch smaller than the iPhone 8 Plus, but has a much larger display (6.5 inches vs 5.5 inches). It will still dominate your hand, but it’s not as unwieldy as you might expect for a phone with a screen this size.

Ultimately though, it’s the iPhone XS Max price that will likely be the sticking point for many. There’s simply no getting away from the fact that this is a very, very expensive smartphone, even a year on from launch.

The iPhone XS offers everything the Max does bar the 6.5-inch display, for less, while the iPhone X has a 6.1-inch display and even lower price tag, although it does make compromises in other areas. And if you really do have loads to spend then there’s also the newer, even more powerful iPhone 11 Pro Max to consider.

Who’s it for?

The iPhone XS Max is for those looking for the biggest screen of Apple’s smartphone line. The firm has never offered a handset with a screen as big as the one on the iPhone XS Max, and that alone will have power users, gamers and video streamers champing at the bit.

You’ll need the funds to bankroll your XS Max investment though, so if you’re on a tight budget you may want to consider the more affordable iPhone XR.

While if money is no object and you want the best screen Apple has ever put on an iPhone, the newer iPhone 11 Pro Max is your phone. But the iPhone XS Max strikes a decent middle ground.

Should I buy it?

The iPhone XS Max is a premium smartphone that looks and feels the part. Sure it’s expensive, but if your budget stretches you’re unlikely to be disappointed with what you get in return.

As we’ve already mentioned, you won’t find a bigger screen on an iPhone, and there’s a huge amount of power inside the handset, which should ensure performance stays high throughout its lifetime.

Worried that the iPhone XS Max may be too big for you, or that its price tag is way above your budget, and want to know what other options you have?

Well have no fear, as we’ve pulled together some of the best alternatives to the iPhone XS Max below.

iPhone 11 Pro Max

The iPhone 11 Pro Max is the successor to the iPhone XS Max and it has the same size screen coupled with even more power and an extra rear camera lens.

There are other changes too – the battery life is better on the iPhone 11 Pro Max, the design has been tweaked a little, and the speakers are better, but this isn’t a vast upgrade.

It’s also more expensive than the iPhone XS Max can currently be found for, so you should think hard about whether the improvements here are really things you need. But if you simply want the best big Apple phone, then this is it.

iPhone XS

The iPhone XS has the same design, power, operating system and cameras as the XS Max; it just delivers them in a smaller package, and with a smaller, 5.8-inch display.

If you know that you want the latest Apple flagship phone, then you need to make the decision between the easier to handle, and slightly less expensive, iPhone XS, and the pricier, big screen-toting XS Max.

For those who watch a lot of movies, or are big into top mobile games such as PUBG and Fortnite, the extra screen real estate on the XS Max provides a better experience over the iPhone XS. However, for more general users the iPhone XS will likely be more tempting.

iPhone XR

The iPhone XR offers up a large screen at a much lower price compared to the iPhone XS Max. It’s still not ‘cheap’, but it at least gives you a viable alternative if the Max’s price tag is simply too high.

You get a 6.1-inch display, which is smaller than the XS Max, but larger than the XS, with Apple’s new A12 Bionic chip under the hood ensuring you have the latest power at your fingertips.

Its single rear camera isn’t as good as the dual setup on the XS Max or XS, the LCD screen technology isn’t as punchy as the OLED panel, and you don’t get 3D Touch, wireless charging or HDR support for video playback.

iPhone 8 Plus

The iPhone 8 Plus is now a year old, but with the arrival of the XS Max it’s had a price cut and has one feature its replacement can’t boast: a Touch ID fingerprint scanner.

If you’re still committed to the finger-reading tech and want a large screen then the iPhone 8 Plus is your best choice. The screen size may only be 5.5 inches, but you do get a home button, and a glass rear with wireless charging capabilities.

There’s a powerful dual camera round the back as well, and while it may not be quite as good as the snappers on the XS Max it’s still an accomplished offering. It’s also been upgraded to iOS 12, so its software matches the latest iPhones.

Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus

If you’re open to Android then you might want to consider the Samsung Galaxy S10 Plus as an alternative.

This is arguably the closest Android competitor to the iPhone XS Max, though the starting price is a chunk less at $999 / £899 / AU$1,499.

The Galaxy S10 Plus has a marginally smaller but still massive 6.4-inch screen, and it’s higher resolution at 1440 x 3040. It also avoids the notch, opting instead for a punch-hole.

There’s an in-screen fingerprint scanner and more cameras than you might know what to do with, including three on the back and two on the front. The S10 Plus also has plenty of power, just like the iPhone XS Max. They’re both top flagships with the operating system being the main difference.

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